Mini Reviews of Steve Jobs + Mr. Holmes + temporary blogging hatus

Hello everyone! You might’ve noticed I’m not blogging as regularly of late after the flurry of Twin Cities Film Fest. Well, I’ve been wanting to take a real blogging break and since this is Thanksgiving week, it sounds like the perfect time.

I’ve been wanting to really focus on my script and so I also plan to blog less in the coming weeks. I’m really close to finishing my script but as with many things in life, the last stretch is often the toughest. But before I do so, I wanted to share just my quick thoughts on two recent films in which the protagonist has been the subject of many films/tv projects. Thankfully we’ve got two very competent thespians in the lead of both movies (movie geeks will probably realize they’ve played the same role in the X-Men franchise).

STEVE JOBS (2015)
    SteveJobsMovie2015Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.

My hubby and I are huge fan of everything Steve Jobs had built, as we pretty much use solely Apple products in our homes: Macbook, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, etc. So we’re quite familiar with his life and my hubby has read Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson and at first I was rather reluctant to see this given that it’s mostly a work of fiction. Well, ahead of the press screening, I read a bunch of articles that outline its inaccuracies, which I’ve listed in this comment section. That fact actually helped tamper my expectation about the film, but as soon as the film started I was immediately engrossed in the film. Ok so Michael Fassbender didn’t resemble Steve Jobs one bit, but it hardly matters once he started spewing lines from Aaron Sorkin‘s sharp script.

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I have to say the film is quite mesmerizing, Fassbender is as charismatic as ever, as I think he captured the essence of Jobs’s magnetic but difficult personality. Apparently he memorized the entirety of the 180-page script which is just incredible. The supporting cast is equally phenomenal. Kate Winslet is fantastic as Jobs’ loyal marketing exec Joanna Hoffman and the constant banters they have are entertaining, even her Polish accent is quite believable. But my favorite supporting cast has got to be Jeff Daniels as Jobs’ former BFF and business partners John Sculley whom Jobs stopped speaking with when he was fired from Apple. Even Sculley himself was reportedly impressed by Daniels’ performance, even though most of the conversations between them never took place. One thing I didn’t really care for is Seth Rogen‘s performance as Steve Wozniak, which seems so sensationalized and just didn’t ring true at all. Yes the rest was pure fiction but at least they seemed believable. It’s ironic since Rogen apparently met with Wozniak extensively for the role.

That said, I definitely recommend this film. Danny Boyle‘s fine directing brings the fine elements of the script and performance to life and the camera angles and intriguing shots certainly liven up an otherwise dull scenes of talking people. If you’re going into this film expecting excellent dialog and great acting, then you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t expect a documentary because Sorkin himself envisioned it more like a ‘painting, not a photograph.’

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Mr. Holmes (2015)

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Now, Sherlock Holmes’ adaptation has been done many times over, but this one seems to have an intriguing angle that’s rarely seen. The aged, retired London detective is dealing with early dementia, as he tries to remember his final case and a woman, the memory of whom still haunts him. Ian McKellen is perfectly cast in the role, playing Sherlock as a 60 and 93 years old. As he returns to Sussex  in 1947, he ends up befriending the young son of his housekeeper, Roger (Milo Parker). The interraction between these two is the heart of the film.

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The curious kid had been through Holmes’ study and it’s clear that he wanted the detective to work again. Through his proding and also because he’s still hunted by his final case, Holmes started writing again. The film goes through several flashback scenes, which is handled very well and definitely adds the mystery aspect one would expect from a Sherlock Holmes film. Hattie Morahan is terrific as the woman central to Holmes’ case and there’s a heartfelt exchange between the two that undoubtedly left a mark on him. As the film progressed, it’s apparent that the older Holmes is a changed man and that he has learned that intellect and logic alone often won’t solve issues involving matters of the heart.

McKellen is effortlessly magnetic here, as he always is, and he is whom I’d imagine an older Holmes to be. The usually excellent Laura Linney has a rather distracting British accent here as Holmes’ housekeeper, though I think towards the end she redeemed herself in the role. I do love Milo Parker as Roger who more than held his own against his much older and far more experienced co-star.

I wasn’t impressed with Bill Condon’s direction of The Fifth Estate (which strangely enough starred Benedict Cumberbatch who became famous playing Sherlock on BBC), but he did a good job here. It’s a slow-burn narrative that remains interesting even when there’s not much going on, and the film is beautifully shot. It’s the quintessential character study of a titular character that certainly merits its existence.

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Have you seen either one of these? Do share your thoughts in the comments!

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

Guest Commentary: A thing or two the movie industry can learn from Steve Jobs

Thanks to my beloved hubby Ivan M. (a.k.a. Pixelcrave) for this special contribution.

I love Pixar movies! I have watched every one of them (except for the last one, Cars 2) and can honestly say each one is very much enjoyable to watch. Even the weakest one in my book (Cars) was still a fun experience.

With the recent news about Steve Jobs stepping down from his CEO role at Apple, the focus has mainly been of his “fruit” company and its ubiquitous gadgets that start with a lowercase “i”. But it’s hard to think about Pixar without acknowledging the fact that after all Jobs was the first to recognize its potentials, and made the investment in what would eventually be one of the best contributions to the movie industry.

A lot has been said since the news came about, including a few movies-related articles like this that highlight the “origin” story of Pixar — how Jobs purchased an almost defunct computer graphics division from George Lucas for $10 million, stroke a big distribution deal with Disney, and turned it into an animation powerhouse that has produced twelve feature films, most of which have received critical and financial success.

It’d be a very long post to even try to list all the things that you can learn from Mr. Jobs. But for the purpose of this article, I’d like to focus on only two things that are very much relevant to the movies & entertainment industry.

Quality over quantity

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 (after being ousted by his own company 11 years earlier), the company was in a big financial red. Jobs’ first order of business to return to black is by terminating a number of Apple products and only focus on a handful of core products that he believes has the most potentials to succeed.

Jobs applied the same principle to Pixar. He is not as hands-on nor micro-managing in Pixar as he is in Apple, but the one thing he made sure of was for Pixar to focus on quality movies — even if that means not producing as many movies as possible, despite pressure from analysts. Contrast this to how Hollywood studios have been operating, creating sequels after sequels in a ridiculously short period of time, all for the sake of generating profits even if it compromise quality.

“The great thing about Steve is that he knows that great business comes from great product. First you have to get the product right, whether it’s the iPod or an animated movie,” says Peter Schneider, the former chairman of Disney’s studio. In fact, Jobs admitted that Pixar often had to make a difficult decision to halt production of each of its movies, to first fix outstanding issues with a storyline or character. Think about it: there are only 12 Pixar movies since Jobs bought the company 25 years ago! That’s a minuscule number compared to Hollywood’s standard. Yet, the $602 million average gross of its movies is by far the highest of any studio in the industry (per Wikipedia). “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do,” Jobs often says.

Ideas first and foremost

Neither iPod nor iPhone were successful because they were the first in the market. They were successful because they were designed around the idea of simplicity — something that’s not typically associated with hi-tech gadgets. Pixar’s Toy Story was the first feature film that was made entirely with CGI. Yet its technology was not the big idea that eventually skyrocketed the company’s valuation into over $7 billion when Disney acquired it in 2006. Toy Story and other Pixar’s movies that follow simply connect with audiences — whether it’s children, younger/older generations, even people of various cultures. The storyline & strong character development behind every movie are ultimately what drive the company’s success. Talking about the working culture at Apple, Jobs once said in an interview, “you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.”

I can only ponder how many movies out there today where the original ideas and vision have been compromised because of pressure from big studios who get the paycheck. It’s no surprise that a lot of the critically-acclaimed movies are coming from smaller, independent studios where ideas and creativity can be nurtured more freely.

Ultimately, the movie industry is as much about making money as any other for-profit business out there — Pixar and Apple not excluded. But what Steve has demonstrated through his two jobs is that he doesn’t compromise creativity and quality for the sole purpose of generating more revenue. For as many good quality movies out there, there are far more money-machine garbage out there that diminish the creative side of the industry.

Here’s hoping more non-compromising creative minds in the industry would share Jobs’ thinking when he says, “quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”


So what do you think about Pixar and Steve Jobs in particular? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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