Home » 2015 » November

Monthly Archives: November 2015

Steve Jobs ••••

SteveJobsposterStarring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Walter Isaacson
Biography/drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: October 23, 2015


reel-4 cast-4 h-logo-halfh-logo-3

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

iGuess it is time to iWrite another iReview, Greg.

It’s deja vu all over again as we review another Steve Jobs film. Let’s recap:

The movie begins with a tense conversation between Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and his marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) just prior to the 1984 launch of the Apple Macintosh. Jobs rails against Time Magazine’s decision to put a PC computer on its cover, and he is upset at Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) for a glitch that prevents the computer from saying “hello” to the world. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) shows up and asks Jobs to acknowledge the work of the old Apple II team, but Jobs refuses.

Meanwhile, Jobs’ old girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) shows up with her daughter Lisa in tow. What ensues is what appears to be a familiar argument between the two. Chrisann points out that Steve is Lisa’s father and he should give her more money for Lisa – after all, he’s worth $42 million. Jobs insists that Lisa is not his daughter and refuses. Still he demonstrates the Macintosh to the little girl and finally relents after she draws him an abstract artwork with MacPaint.

Greg, back in 2013 we reviewed an earlier biopic on Steve Jobs, called simply Jobs, in which Ashton Kutcher played the legendary founder of Apple. The film was forgettable and uninspired. This current movie, Steve Jobs, proves that if you add the hero’s first name to the title, the film improves considerably. Steve Jobs boasts a crisp and clever screenplay that sizzles with snappy, snarky conversations. The movie might not appeal to people who crave action and adventure; it is most certainly dialogue-heavy. But the dialogue is well worth hearing.

Our hero is on a journey that blends self-aggrandizement with self-discovery. Much is made of Jobs’ relentless drive to promote himself and his new electronic gizmos, and interspersed with these efforts are repeated references to Jobs’ upbringing as an adopted child who never quite received enough approval and validation for who he was. During his verbal jousting with CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels), Jobs is reminded of his confused identity. In a way, this movie combines an origin story with a hero story that is clouded and confounded by the incoherent origin of the hero.

If you’ve read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs you won’t recognize any of the scenes in this movie. But you might recognize a lot of the one-liners. It appears that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin created three major events (the introduction of the Macintosh, the introduction of the NeXT computer, and the introduction of the iPod) to illustrate three phases in Jobs’ life. The content is right, just rearranged in a way to better illustrate his hero’s journey.

The film is rife with secondary supporting characters. Right-hand woman Johanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) covers all the loose ends and at one point becomes Jobs’ conscience. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is Jobs’ alter ego. Where Jobs has no technical skills and struggles with personal relationships, “Woz” points out that it is possible to be both a genius and a nice guy. John Scully represents a father figure – the one Jobs both lacks in his own life and fails for his daughter Lisa. It’s a strong cast and a rich support system for the lead character.

I agree with you about the supporting characters, Greg. They carry the movie, as there isn’t really any story other than what you hear in the constant stream of dialogue that comprises the entire screenplay. As you mention, Joanna serves as a mentor figure to Jobs, and Scully is the father figure that Sigmund Freud believed that all of us must tear down in order for us to carve out our unique and independent identities. His daughter Lisa is a pivotal character. Just as Jobs must tangle with Scully, Lisa must spar with Jobs, with both father and daughter struggling to gain acceptance and recognition.

Overall, the structure of this movie is strange, limiting, yet effective. We witness no hero journey per se, as all the “action” of the film takes place in dialogue form just prior to big product announcements. Yet we are privy to what has transpired before and between events that are known to us or are described for our edification. This movie shouldn’t work, yet it does, thanks to terrific performances by Fassbender, Winslet, and Daniels, not to mention terrific writing that brings to life the complexity of the relationships among the characters.

I was kept in rapt attention throughout the whole film. I was entranced by the dialog between the players and got a strong sense of just how complex Jobs was. Also, unlike 2013’s Jobs, Steve Jobs shows us a maturing Steve Jobs. I give this incarnation of the Jobs saga 4 out of 5 Reels.

We look for transformation in the hero’s journey. And we get a nice transformation in Steve Jobs. Jobs starts out self absorbed, fanatical about detail, and focused on delivering perfection on time. By the time we get to the end of the film we see a mellowed Jobs. One who is as baffled by his younger self as those around him. It’s not a classic hero’s journey (there’s no all-encompassing main goal, for example). But it is still a transformative tale. I give Steve Jobs 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting cast, as we’ve already pointed out, fulfills the roles of father figure, mentor, reflection, love interest and child. The performances lifted this film to an Oscar-caliber level. I give the supporting cast 4 out of 5 Cast points.

Movie: reel-4Cast: cast-4Heroes: h-logo-4

Steve Jobs is a superbly written tale of a visionary man whose runaway ego almost destroys him time and again. Yet somehow this man prevailed, and this movie offers glimpses into how and why he is able to engineer his successes. Despite being a movie that is completely devoid of action, this film held my attention and fascinated me. Like you, Greg, I believe it deserves 4 Reels out of 5.

I’m still not sure whether our charismatic main character is a hero or an anti-hero. I found myself liking John Scully, Steve Jobs’ nemesis, more than Jobs himself. In fact, almost every character in this movie is more likeable than Jobs. Yet Jobs does manage to attract our sympathy and our respect, and his hard edges do soften in this movie just as they do in Ashton Kuchar’s Jobs. The hero story here is a bit disjointed and missing a few classic elements. As such, it merits a rating of 3 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting characters are terrific and not much more needs to be said about them. Both Jobs and Scully show us that a fine line exists between the good guys and the bad guys. There is only one character that sticks by Jobs’ side throughout the messes he creates for himself, and that is Joanna, who isn’t quite a love interest but sort of plays that role along with the role of sidekick and mentor. Overall, this cast shines and I can agree with you, Greg, that they deserve a rating of 4 out of 5.

Movie: reel-4Cast: cast-4Heroes: h-logo-3

The Walk •••1/2

The_Walk_(2015_film)_posterStarring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Guillaume Baillargeon
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne
Adventure/biography/drama, Rated: PG
Running Time: 123 mintues
Release Date: October 9, 2015


reel-3 480px-One-half.svg cast-3 h-logo-4

Well it won’t be a walk in the park, but we should review The Walk.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

This movie is less about walking and more about sphincter-tightening acrobatics. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to a young Parisian Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is getting kicked out of his family home because all he wants to do with his life is walk the high-wire. While at the dentist’s office, he sees a picture of the under-construction World Trade Center Towers in NYC. He is immediately enamoured of the idea of walking a tightrope between the two towers.

But first Philippe must practice his craft and raise money to accomplish his dream. He meets Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), an older man who runs a local circus troupe. Papa Rudy sees potential in young Philippe and begins to mentor the young man about knots, techniques, and the psychological aspects of walking on tightropes. Philippe illegally walks between the two towers at Notre Dame and soon begins attracting a following. Meanwhile, he assembles a team of helpers and the financial resources to fulfill his ambition to walk the Twin Towers.

Scott, The Walk was an unexpected pleasure. Joseph Gordon-Levitt really shines in this role. I fell in love with his passion for tightrope walking from the instant I met young Philippe. The story unfolds with Philippe as a youth and we grow with him as he gets more and more proficient at his craft. We’re witness to the extremes he must go to – and the incredible focus he must possess – in order to accomplish his goal.

If there is one thing I can complain about in this film, is that director Robert Zemeckis insisted that Gordon-Levitt narrate the entire story. As if he could not trust himself to tell a story that was delivered on-screen. The age-old adage of writing still is true: “Show, don’t Tell.” And there was an abundance of telling in this movie. As I was watching, I tried to figure out what was missing in the showing that needed so much telling. And I couldn’t discern it. Except that the film would have been about 20 minutes shorter – the narration was an unnecessary distraction.

The Walk gives us an inside peek into a man’s obsessive dream to accomplish a physical feat that appears to have no redeeming value other than it demands courage and perseverance. I use the word “appears” because it could be argued that the audacity shown by Philippe in this movie is no different from the audacity shown by the astronauts in The Martian to study Mars. This movie showcases the pervasive human drive to test the limits of human skill and endurance in accomplishing daring physical feats.

As with any good hero, Philippe undergoes an important transformation during this story. His dream by itself is not enough; he must hone important techniques and acquire self-confidence. Moreover, he must acquire leadership skills and a willingness to learn from the master himself, Papa Rudy. Once successful, Philippe enjoys a newfound maturity and sense of utter accomplishment. And along the way, he remains open to receiving assistance from numerous friends and allies, not to mention a prominent love interest. Overall, The Walk tells a good solid hero story.

I couldn’t agree with you more, Scott. The Walk is a classic hero’s journey and Zemeckis is well-schooled in telling just such stories. There are even (farcical) conspiracy stories about how Zemeckis is fulfilling a prophecy he foretold in Back to the Future 2. But I digress. Philippe’s “coup’ – or clique of accomplishes – is forged when he pulls in the support of Annie (Charlotte Le Bon). She becomes his romantic interest and greatest supporter. Second is Jean-Louis (Clément Sibomy) whom Philippe makes his ‘official’ photographer. Slowly, Philippe gathers together a small entourage of followers who are dedicated to helping him conquer his beast – the World Trade Center Towers.

You are correct in pointing out all the very capable supporting characters in this film. Let’s not forget the villainous forces that oppose young Philippe. There is the New York Police Department, an institution that frowns upon our French hero’s ambitions. At least a half-dozen cops play minor roles as the face of this institution. Another obstacle are a couple of Philippe’s friends who are not up to the task of helping him, or who are barely up to snuff. One of them, for example, has an extreme fear of heights — not exactly the man you want helping you set up the high wire 1200 feet above ground..

One nice touch in this film was the decision to show Annie leaving Philippe after he has succeeded in walking the tightrope between the towers. I applaud the filmmakers for including this scene, as it tells us that women are far more than mere supporters of the dreams of men. Women have their own lives and their own dreams to fulfill, without a man’s help. Well done.

The Walk is a dizzying display of heroic accomplishment and the allies necessary to make dreams come true. Philippe Petit’s story would be unfathomable if it weren’t absolutely true. While I hope this film doesn’t inspire any young people to risk their lives in death defying feats, I am sure The Walk will inspire many young people to go forward to achieve their dreams. I give The Walk 4 out of 5 Reels.

Philippe Petit is everything we look for in a hero. He’s determined, charismatic, and bigger than life. He even has devastating fears that make him all the more human. I give him 4 out of 5 Heroes.

And his supporting cast is both rich and diverse. Philippe combines friends from France as well as new friends from the USA. We’re treated to a love interest, a scribe, and even an ally who faces his own fears and overcomes them with Philippe’s help. The one thing missing was a strong villain – but I suppose the combination of the heights of the Twin Towers and the forces of gravity fill that role. I give the supporting cast 3 out of 5 Cast points.

 Movie: reel-4Heroes: h-logo-4 Cast: cast-3

The Walk is a fun and pleasant movie about a man with a dream to accomplish a feat that is utterly useless to humanity but is essential for the man’s sense of self-completion. This film is fanciful and endearing in its style of presentation and in its portrayal of loyal, loving characters who support our hero’s dream. The movie earns a respectable 3 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve mentioned, our hero Philippe travels a full hero’s journey replete with friends, a lover, a mentor, and an institutional villain. As befitting a hero, he undergoes both physical and emotional transformations. Does he give anything back to society at the end? Not really, or at least not directly. Perhaps he has inspired thousands of people to follow their dreams, and in the end, that is quite a gift in itself. I can easily award young, audacious Philippe a worthy 4 Heroes out of 5.

I agree with you, Greg, that the supporting characters are a worthy collection of diverse people who make Philippe’s extraordinary feat possible. Even the pathetic cops are enjoyable in their failed attempt to thwart our hero. Three cast points out of 5 seems appropriate indeed.

Movie: reel-3 Heroes: h-logo-4 Cast: cast-3

The Intern •••

The_Intern_PosterStarring:Robert De NiroAnne HathawayRene Russo
Director:Nancy Meyers
Screenplay:Nancy Meyers
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: September 25, 2015


reel-3 cast-2cast-half h-logo-3h-logo-half

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well Greg, Robert De Niro doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to retire — both in real life and in this movie.

I found the whole thing (re)tiring. Let’s recap:

We meet Ben Whitaker (Robert De Niro), a 70-year-old widower who is restless and dissatisfied with his life as a retiree. While searching for something meaningful to do with his time, he stumbles across an advertisement for an senior internship program. He decides to apply as an intern at a company called About The Fit, a fast-growing business that sells fashionable clothing online. Ben’s interview goes well and he is hired as an intern.

But his new boss is Jules: a high-strung workaholic young woman (Anne Hathaway) who micromanages everyone. At first she shuns Ben claiming that she doesn’t need an assistant. Ben employs his old-school discipline of never leaving the building before the boss and picking up the boss’s loose ends. One day, he notices her driver is a bit too drunk to drive and he takes his place as Jules’ driver. And before you know it they’re best buddies.

If you’ve been following our movie reviews over the years, you know that I haven’t been much of a fan of Robert DeNiro’s recent body of work. With The Intern, there is now some promising indication that his slump is over. DeNiro shines in his portrayal of a retired gentleman from a bygone era who takes on the role of a rookie intern in a quest to inject his geezerly life with some meaning. He not only finds what he is looking for, he also manages to endow several other people’s lives with richness, wisdom, and direction.

The hero’s journey here takes on a unique and interesting form. Ben starts out as a useless minion to Jules, but over time he evolves into a trusted sidekick. By the end of the film, Ben is arguably Jules’ equal, and also her mentor. To the extent that Ben and Jules are equals, one could argue that they are buddy heroes who follow the classic pattern of being at odds with each other at first and then grow into BFFL’s. Whether Ben is her sidekick, mentor, or buddy is open to interpretation here. Regardless, their relationship evolves and becomes transformative for them both.

I thought this movie was too reminiscent of last year’s The Interns starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Similarly, we have two older salesmen who teach old-school lessons to the Internet savvy youngsters of Google. The Intern is a little more personal in that Ben takes on a more mentorly role early in the film. In fact, he much reminds me of a butler similar to Hobson in 1981’s Arthur – or even Mary Poppins. He takes Jules’ daughter to kindergarten and fixes her relationship with her stay-at-home husband.

Scott, we just reviewed The Martian where astronaut Watney graduates from hero to teacher. In that review we noted the ultimate destination for the hero is to become a mentor. And I think we see this pattern revisited here in The Intern. Ben has been a leader of a major company and has retired to a sedate life. Now, with this new opportunity, he has a chance to pass on his wealth of knowledge not only to Jules, but also to all the members of her staff. He has found his final destination.

Greg, this movie has a sweetness to it that I found extremely appealing. Both of the lead characters need something, and what they need can only be found with help from the other. Jules wants to be seen as independent and so she resists Ben’s help. She is smart enough to know that Ben represents no threat to her authority and legitimacy as a leader. So she bends, and as befitting a good hero story, her receptivity to change is brought about by a deep hurt — the devastating reality of her husband cheating on her.

As you point out, Greg, Ben himself has already accomplished in life many of the goals that Jules is now seeking. And so he is developmentally ready to just assume a helping role, a mentoring function. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The first half of this movie is devoted to Jules not being ready. All heroes are humbled in some way, and this ends up being the key to her openness to transformation. I enjoyed watching these two heroes do all the things that heroes do when they are in two different stages of life. Thirty or forty years in the future, I can easily envision Jules doing all the things that Ben is doing in this movie.

Actually, Scott, I found this movie somewhat patronizing. Aside from Jules, all the other characters in the story were caricatures and stereotypes of millennials. Ben is seated with the other interns, all of whom are recent college graduates.

Young Davis is being kicked out of his parent’s basement. So Ben takes him in and teaches him the importance of getting out of bed on time and dressing in a suit and tie.

Young Jason is too interested in partying and Ben shows him the way of moderation.

And young administrative assistant Becky is drawn to tears when she fears Ben is getting more attention than she is. “I’ve got a degree in marketing from Harvard Wah wah wah” And of course Ben calms her down with a pat and a hanky – then pushes Jules to delegate some of her authority to Becky.

These are all stereotypes that will appeal to the older crowd, who appear to be the target audience. There’s no nuance here. Jules is the female Mark Zuckerberg who needs a nudge to realize that if she’s going to play with the big boys, she has to grow a pair. And it’s Ben’s gentle nudging that gets her there.

I found it all very patronizing verging on condescending.

Sorry you felt that way, Greg. The Intern represents a comeback of sorts for actor Robert De Niro, who shines as an older man looking for a way to live a meaningful life. His heroic urge to mentor others is fulfilled when he is partnered with a rising business star, played with great zest and skill by Anne Hathaway. This movie accomplishes what all good hero stories should accomplish – it teaches us that when we’re young, we need good mentors. And that when we’re old, we need to give back, to do good mentoring. There’s nothing condescending about needing help and giving help; it’s just a reality of lifespan development. For giving us a sweet tale of two lives intertwined across generations, I award this movie 4 Reels out of 5.

The two hero’s journeys of our lead characters are fun to watch, and they show how two people who need each other can help each other grow and evolve. Ben is wise enough to know he needs to come out of retirement to meet his need to mentor, and Jules becomes wise enough to recognize that she needs mentoring. The movie’s ending is ambiguous — does Ben no longer need to mentor? This dual hero story is moving, sometimes silly, but compelling overall. I give this pair 4 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting cast is adequate but not terribly memorable. Another intern is a comic figure. One of Jules’ employees is also comedic in a pathetic sort of way. There’s no real villainy to speak of. This is a story of people growing and developing more than it is a story of overcoming any particular villain. Overall, the supporting characters earn a decent rating of 3 out of 5.

 Movie: reel-4Cast: cast-3Hero:h-logo-4

I found The Intern to be an overly simplistic, melodramatic, under humored and pandering to the older generation. Even the idea that a woman could run her own company was undermined by her having to be taught the values of bygone days by an older man. I felt it was a boring, and like it or not, condescending look at a fantasy of modern business. I can’t muster more than 2 Reels out of 5 for The Intern.

I’ll grant you a nice hero’s journey for both Ben and Jules. It’s a pattern I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of – a mentor who needs his up-and-coming apprentice. And an apprentice who needs the mentoring of a former hero to rise to her own potential. I give these odd-couple buddy heroes 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting cast were all weak cardboard cutouts of young people stereotypes. I’ve already outlined my thoughts on them. 2 out of 5 Cast points.

 Movie: reel-2Cast: cast-2Hero:h-logo-3