FlixChatter Review: Jobs

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The main draw for me about this film is not the talents involved, but the subject matter of one of the most revered innovator of the 20th century. As a huge fan of Apple products, naturally both my hubby and I knew quite a bit about Steve Jobs’ life. My hubby more so than I am as he’s read a lot more stuff on him, including the Walter Isaacson’s official biography that’s published shortly before his death. There is another biopic in the works that’s going to be based on that book, currently in the development stage with Aaron Sorkin as the writer. Now, THAT is the biopic I’m looking forward to, which I read recently has gotten the blessings from Steve Wozniak. THIS film on the other hand, was made with no involvement from Apple whatsoever, Steve Wozniak himself would not recommend the film, saying he was ‘turned off’ by Jobs’ script (posted in the comment section of Gizmodo.com review the film.

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This film focuses on the early years of Apple, how Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak first came up with the first personal computer. It began with one of Job’s famous keynotes (or Stevenotes) in 2001 when he unveiled one of Apple’s masterpiece iPod, which forever changed the way people listen to music, and the music industry itself. Then it wind back about 30 years with Steve sleeping on a sofa at Reed College, Portland, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. It was shot in a whirlwind of vignettes with the Hippy-looking Jobs getting high with his friends, a trip to India to find ‘enlightenment’, working at Atari where his insolent work ethic clashes with his co-workers. All of this happens relatively fast, but I felt like the movie sort of got off in the wrong foot for me as even 10 minutes in, I already found it to be tedious, even grating. To be honest, despite their physical resemblance, I’m not exactly fond of Ashton Kutcher‘s casting. He just gets on my nerves and seeing him portraying Jobs behaving badly just accentuates that.

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To be fair, as the film went on, I found that Kutcher’s portrayal isn’t the worst part of the film. I actually think he did his best with imitating Jobs’ gestures, the way he walked, etc., trying earnestly to shed the image of the dimwitted Kelso from That 70s Show. Unfortunately, there’s more to a compelling portrayal of a real-life persona that mere physicality. On top of that, the superficial, ‘episodic’ script from first timer Matt Whiteley doesn’t do him any favor. Once in flashback mode, the film pretty much tread along in a linear fashion.

Still, it was amusing to see how he and Wozniak ended up building Apple computers out of Jobs’ parents’ garage. Seeing what Wozniak (Josh Gad) came up with, which he didn’t seem to think much of, Jobs was inspired to combine a typewriter with a TV, and that’s how Apple II was born. Then came Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney – who’s good here though he looks nothing like the real guy!), a former Intel engineer who came on board to fund their business. Apple II ended up being a hit at the San Francisco’s West Coast Computer Faire (Jobs was only 21 years old at the time) and the rest is well, history.

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I think people who are familiar with the story of Apple would recognize right away the supporting characters in the film: Matthew Modine as CEO John Scully (which Jobs personally recruited from Pepsi), J.K. Simmons as Apple Board leader Arthur Rock, as well Kevin Dunn as CEO Gil Amelio which Jobs ousted in 1997 in a boardroom coup as Apple stocks continued its downward slump.

Yet the dramatization just isn’t all that compelling. In fact, for a biopic about one of the most creative brains of this century, the way his story is told lacks creativity. Director Joshua Michael Stern often tries to hard to be imaginative with his camera angles and whatnot, i.e. blurry effect before a scene comes into focus, but it feels too gimmicky to me. All the details about Jobs’ quirks (being a fruitarian, lack of physical hygiene, his temper tantrums, etc.) are well-covered here, but the film never really captured the ‘essence’ nor the ‘heart’ of the character. It seems that the film is far more concerned about portraying the ‘genius’ aspect of Jobs, completely glossing over his personal life. It’s never explored how he went from being a complete jerk to his pregnant girlfriend to being a family man with Laurene Powell up until the day of his death. Not sure how he got around to naming the first Apple computer after his first daughter after he vehemently rejected the idea that he was the father.

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In the finale, when Jobs recited his most famous quote for his Think Different campaign, I didn’t feel that this film earned it. I remember being so moved when I first heard that quote years ago that ends with “… because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Yet hearing it at the end of this film didn’t quite have the same impact. Perhaps because the Steve Jobs as portrayed in this film failed to connect with me. If anything, it makes me long for the other biopic that I mentioned above.

Final Thoughts: Subpar script, lackluster direction and that Kutcher’s lack of dramatic chops contribute to something that looks more like a TV movie. Heck, even the decidedly made-for-TV Pirates of Silicon Valley that focused on the parallel lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got a much better critical reviews. I really think the people involved in this film tried to bite more things than they can chew, perhaps it might’ve been better if they had narrowed the scope of the film and focused on a certain period of Jobs life instead. So yeah, this one certainly would NOT end up in my list of favorite Biopics.

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2 out of 5 reels

Well, what do you think of this film and/or Ashton Kutcher in general?

FlixChatter Review: Stoker

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Though this film was not on my radar until a few months ago, I was quite intrigued when I first saw the trailer. If you haven’t seen this yet though, I’d say stay away from the latest trailer.

As you’ve perhaps read my Asian directors post, this is Chan-Wook Park‘s English language debut. It’s not only a first for Park, this is also Prison Break‘s Wentworth Miller’s debut screenplay. I’d say he’s quite a talented writer. The film centers on India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), who’s mourning the sudden death of her father. As if that is not a major life-changing event for the reclusive teen, her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who she never knew existed now comes to live with her and her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Right of the bat we know there is something strangely peculiar about Charlie and India thinks so too, right from the moment she noticed him standing on a hill at her dad’s funeral. The Stokers certainly gives a whole new meaning to dysfunctional family, one that’d make your blood turns cold.

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Much to India’s chagrin, Evelyn seems to be fascinated by her long-lost brother-in-law who claims he’s been traveling all over the world. India is naturally suspicious of Charlie, and he gives every reason for her to be with his creepy mannerism and frequent glances towards her. Initially, she tries to ignore his unhealthy attention, but Charlie is quite relentless. Despite the warning of one family member, Evelyn doesn’t mind her brother in-law staying with them and let’s just say Charlie intends to keep it that way, and would stop at nothing to keep his secret safe. I’m going to stop giving you the synopsis as the less you know about the plot the better. Not that Park is too concerned about plot twists however, I feel that he’s more interested in building a certain state of mind for the audience as they watch things unfold.

To say this movie is unsettling would be a giant understatement. The sinister atmosphere practically ricochet off the high ceilings of the secluded woodsy estate where the Stokers live. The tension intensifies every time Charlie appears and Park is able to establish suspense with minimal frills. Even the seemingly ordinary event such as two people playing the piano or having dinner is so eerie and you’re at the edge of your seat waiting just what’s going to happen. Even the humorous parts are not without tension, such as the part when the Ray-Ban-wearing Charlie stalks India on her way home from work in his black convertible whilst the girls on her school bus are giggling and fawning over him.

A few reviewers say this film is not as bloody as Park’s other films and I’m certainly glad for that most of the violence happen off screen. That’s not to say there are no brutal scenes, it’s certainly not in short supply for my taste, but it’s not so gory that it makes my stomach churn. What really strikes me about Park’s direction is his creative camera angles and how he frames the scene. It’s truly a gorgeous film and beautifully-shot by Park’s longtime-collaborator Chung-hoon Chung, both clearly have such keen eye for detail that enhance the mysterious ambiance of the film. There are also some interesting metaphors used here, such as the choice of Charlie’s car, a Jaguar, seems to signify that he’s a predator on the lookout for his next prey.

Clint Mansel‘s foreboding score also works very well here, I quite enjoy the classically-tinged music used throughout. The music certainly enhances the mood, but it also plays a role in the story. There is one memorable scene where Charlie and India playing piano together that perfectly captures the disturbing nature of their relationship.

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The three main actors did an excellent job, particularly Wasikowska who manages to be convincing as a 17-year-old despite being five years older than her character. The talented Australian has this otherworldly presence that is perfect for the role and she has proven to be a capable leading lady. Goode is so perfectly creepy as Charlie, his preppy good looks makes him all the more menacing. I read that Colin Firth had been cast in the role but dropped out, I actually think Goode’s youthfulness is perhaps more suitable for the role than Firth, plus he resembles Dermot Mulroney who plays Mia’s late father Richard, who appears only in flashbacks. Kidman’s icy demeanor is put to good use in depicting a selfish and detached mother. I like the International flavor of the film. The director and cinematographer are Korean, the composer, screenwriter and lead actor are from the UK and the two main actresses are Australian.

Being that this is my first Chan-wook Park’s film I saw, I’d say I’m quite impressed with his direction and style. I do think that the filmmaker perhaps place aesthetics above narrative that it felt like the film’s on the brink of style-over-substance. It’s also a cold film that appeals more for the brain but little for the heart as all the characters are impossible to root for. That said, Stoker definitely works as a cerebral, atmospheric psychological thriller. Thriller fans looking for a spooky and suspenseful roller-coaster ride should not be disappointed.


4 out of 5 reels

What are your thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear it!