Tag Archives: The Social Network

Fassbender an Insufferable, Strangely Sexy Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
Three stars (out of four)
R (language)
122 minutes

The brilliant inventor of sleekly designed, user friendly gadgets that revolutionized the way the world thinks about computers was a poorly made machine, incapable of love, kindness, selflessness or even basic human decency.

That’s the thesis of “Steve Jobs,” Danny Boyle’s fascinating, if flawed, expedition into the volatile mind of the late genius who co-founded Apple and made it possible for many of us to enter into a passionate, co-dependent relationship with our iPhones.

(Oh, precious iPhone, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.)

(Ahem. Sorry.)

Boyle’s film benefits greatly from a whip-smart script by that maestro of intelligent, playful dialogue, Aaron Sorkin, and by the fact that it is 10 times bolder, more ambitious and more absorbing than the 2013 Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher.

At the center of the movie is a mesmerizing, maniacal performance by Michael Fassbender, who seemed an odd choice to portray one of the geekiest innovators of all time.

Fassbender is a marvelous actor, but he oozes sex appeal and a shark-like menace not typically associated with a man famous for his spectacles, white sneakers, mom jeans and black turtleneck. I’ll admit I was extremely skeptical going into “Steve Jobs” that the fiery, Irish star of “Shame” and “Twelve Years a Slave” could pull this off. The crazy thing is how well this unlikely casting choice works.

Fassbender’s intensity, his gift for plumbing the depths of tortured souls and, yes, even the more seductive qualities that have made him quite popular with the ladies combine to create the perfect embodiment of Sorkin’s Jobs, who is — not to mince words — a monumental douchebag.

Yet, he’s a douchebag who radiates a strange, irresistible charisma. We hate this guy. We really do. But we’re also strangely drawn to him.

Fassbender also shares an electric chemistry with co-star Kate Winslet, who plays Jobs’ long-suffering longtime confidante, Apple marketing exec Joanna Hoffman. She’s so good, you’ll forgive her inconsistent Polish accent.

“Steve Jobs” is basically Steve and Joanna’s bizarre love story, albeit a platonic one.

“Why have we never slept together?,” Jobs asks Hoffman in one typically Sorkinesque scene.

“Because we’re not in love,” Hoffman snaps, all business.

If you sat through the dull and plodding 2013 Jobs biopic then you’ll recognize it as no small mercy that Boyle and Sorkin have hit upon a refreshingly innovative structure for their version of Steve’s story.

“Steve Jobs” unfolds in three acts, each of them set in the hours before a big product launch. Ever the edgy stylist, Boyle stages each one in a different cinematic format to reflect the passing of technological eras — the first in low-tech 16 mm film, the second in shiny 35 mm, the finale in coolly detached digital.

The film has the minimalist, intimate, talk-heavy feel of a play. It’s also very similar to Sorkin’s script for “The Social Network,” wielding a veritable hatchet at Jobs’ character in a portrayal that may or may not be fair but is utterly hypnotizing to watch.

Our first impression of Jobs is anything but favorable as he juggles familial and professional responsibilities behind the scenes of the 1984 unveiling of the first Macintosh computer.

While Jobs obsesses over technical difficulties and the fact that he wasn’t chosen as Time magazine’s Man of the Year, Hoffman struggles to keep her mercurial boss focused on the tasks at hand, which include placating ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) even as he denies paternity of her precocious child, Lisa (Makenzie Moss).

Yes, Sorkin’s Jobs is a man cold-hearted enough to proclaim his lack of parental responsibility to a 5-year-old girl’s adorable face, even after she proudly proclaims, “My Daddy named a computer after me.”

Also on Jobs’ social calendar: Software wizard Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), who Jobs humiliates because he fails to program the Mac to say “Hello”; Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who calls Jobs out on his refusal to acknowledge key members of the development team; and Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Jobs’ father figure and future rival.

Bridges, Rogen and Stuhlbarg are all excellent, but especially Stuhlbarg, who brings such strength and sensitivity to his soft-spoken character. These three men haunt Jobs throughout the film.

Like Scrooge’s ghosts, they reappear to confront him after his messy split with Apple, at the 1988 launch of his doomed NEXT computer, and finally before his defining moment, the 1998 debut of the iMac.

Lisa is also a recurring character and Jobs’ relationship with the daughter he is so reluctant to acknowledge becomes the major emotional force in a movie that takes many factual liberties but nevertheless has a compelling ring of truth about it.

There’s an air of surrealism to the film as Sorkin and Boyle conjure up a public shouting match between Jobs and Wozniak that never actually occurred and intimate conversations with Sculley and Jobs long after the pair had in reality parted ways.

The movie’s second act is its most thrilling, depicting Jobs’ firing from Apple and his eventual triumphant return to the company as an elaborately staged coup designed to satisfy his thirst for revenge.

“Steve Jobs” can be melodramatic and heavy-handed at times — pinning down Jobs’ fear of rejection to his adoption is a bit simplistic, for instance — and it lets the character off the hook too easily in the end with a reconciliation that is entirely too sentimental for a movie this glacial.

The film’s best qualities are some of Jobs’ best qualities, too. It’s charged with friction, energy and daring vision.

Photo: http://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com.

 

 

 

 

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‘Gone Girl’ a Wickedly Entertaining Thriller

‘Gone Girl’
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, language)
149 minutes

If you’ve had the demented pleasure of reading Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” then you know that much of the anticipation surrounding the movie stemmed from curiosity.

How would director David Fincher handle the book’s clever dual structure, its unreliable first-person narratives? What about that uncompromising ending? And that whiplash-inducing twist halfway through. How would he pull that off on screen?

If you’ve read Flynn’s novel, you also know it’s nearly impossible to review the film without spoiling the tasty but poisonous machinations of its tangled plot.

Well, here goes nothing.

The surprising truth is that the movie adaptation of “Gone Girl” is wickedly entertaining and a success on almost every level.

Although authors often translate their works to the screen with mixed results, Entertainment Weekly scribe turned novelist Gillian Flynn bravely takes the knife to her intricate thriller, trimming the fat but preserving all the juiciest morsels. She’s done such an excellent job of condensing and streamlining that, even at two and a half hours long, the movie zings along at a near perfect pace.

As you might suspect, Fincher is just the man to tackle this poisonous murder-mystery, which oozes with the sort of outrageous domestic dramas you typically find in Lifetime television movies. By embracing the book’s camp potential and slyly underlining its pitch-black humor, Fincher transforms a story full of preposterous developments into a smart, sordid guilty pleasure.

Crime, obsession, sociopathy, kinky sex, deeply troubled misfits and people pretending to be what they’re not — these subjects are the forte of Fincher, who previously went slumming in such grim and gritty thrillers as “Seven,” “Fight Club,” “Zodiac,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and even the “The Social Network.”

At first glance, “Gone Girl” appears to be perhaps a little too conventional for Fincher’s freakier predilections. In a very meta bit of casting, Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a smugly handsome magazine writer who is vilified by the press when he becomes a suspect in the disappearance of his beautiful, blonde wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike).

(Affleck has never been charged with murder, but he does know what it’s like to be embraced and then scorned by an unforgiving media.)

We meet Nick Dunne on the morning his wife vanishes from their suburban Missouri home, leaving behind a crime scene that suggests a violent struggle. Nick immediately calls the police and a pair of no-nonsense detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) arrive to investigate, quickly uncovering an envelope cheekily labeled “Clue One.”

According to Nick, said clue is part of an anniversary scavenger hunt Amy designed for her hubby, complete with rhyming riddles and destinations rife with personal significance. As the cops go treasure hunting in search of a lead, Nick awkwardly navigates the media circus surrounding Amy’s disappearance.

His increasingly tactless, public faux pas are intercut with excerpts from Amy’s diary, recalling the couple’s courtship in New York. In scenes so sugary sweet and picture-postcard perfect they could be from a slightly ominous romantic comedy, we learn Amy is something of a celebrity, the inspiration for a series of children’s books authored by her insensitive parents (David Clennon, Lisa Banes).

We see Nick and Amy meet-cute as young writers, agree to marry after a witty proposal and bask in short-lived bliss, until the recession, lay-offs, a family illness and an abrupt move shake the foundations of their hitherto solid union.

Even when nothing sinister is happening, Fincher keeps the audience unsettled, off-balance, tipping us off that everything is not as it seems. He’s aided by a jittery, minimalist musical score by “Social Network” collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

There’s something brilliantly deceptive about the way Fincher lures us in. For much of the film, I kept wondering if “Gone Girl” was maybe too tame for his talents. It wasn’t until the film’s final act, which features a spectacular, stomach-churning outburst of sex and violence, that I finally realized how mistaken I was.

Readers will note that, as with virtually every page-to-screen transfer, some of the telling motivational detail of Flynn’s rich and complicated characterizations is lost in the film.

However, a fine cast goes a long way to remedying these shortcomings.

Affleck is ideally positioned as a golden boy whose plastic grin and glib charm suggest he’s hiding dark secrets.

Speaking of charm, Neil Patrick Harris puts his trademark charisma to supremely icky uses in a part best left to the imagination.

I actually think the lovably snarky Carrie Coon, of TV series “The Leftovers,” makes more of the character of Nick’s supportive twin sister, Margo, than is found in Flynn’s book.

Tyler Perry may not seem the obvious choice to play a hotshot defense attorney, but he’s great in the role. And Dickens is possibly the best matter-of-fact lady detective since Frances McDormand in “Fargo.”

There’s not much I can say about Pike’s performance without heading into dangerous spoiler territory, but it is pivotal to the film’s success, weirdly hypnotic and unexpectedly funny.

As for the much-ballyhooed changes Fincher and Flynn supposedly made to the book’s ending, it’s a mystery to me what happened there. As far as I can tell, there are no major alterations, certainly nothing worth getting excited about.

As a satire of America’s fascination with murder, especially the slaying of pretty, young wives, “Gone Girl” is pointed and hilarious. Its depiction of a fickle public and an easily manipulated media may be over-the-top but it’s also undeniably relevant.

Just as Flynn’s book was more than a trashy page-turner, riffing shrewdly on gender politics, the fictions we construct around our romantic relationships and the fractured fairy tale marriage often turns out to be, so “Gone Girl” the movie has deeper — if not earth-shattering — things on its mind than simply serving up a sizzling who-done-it.