Fall 2015 Review Blow-Out (Part 2)

Welcome back, folks. Today we bring you more of the pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat short-form film criticism you’ve come to expect.

STEVE JOBS

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Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs (Universal)

Aaron Sorkin is a unique presence in Hollywood, one of the few screenwriters (along with Charlie Kaufman) to truly distinguish himself as an auteur. Steve Jobs continues many of the trends we’ve come to expect out of a Sorkin joint, like the biting, fast-and-furious dialogue, a prototypically Sorkin-esque white male protagonist and some troublesome depictions of women. It’s a fascinating watch, not the least of which for its problems.

Steve Jobs literally follows a three-act structure: the film takes place backstage before three of Jobs’ pre-iPod product launches. This framework is clever, and whether it works for you might come down to personal taste. The structure draws attention to itself and defines the picture in a way a more traditional plot would not. Steve Jobs is a “biopic” only in the broadest sense of the word; Sorkin’s screenplay, an adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography, takes broad thematic strokes from Jobs’ life to create an emotional portrait that bears little resemblance to the real events as they took place.

Since the film takes place in three segments that play out in close to real-time, Steve Jobs is required to compress a ton of character development into a few (admittedly lengthy) sequences. As a result, the film bears an electric sense of urgency and momentum. This has the unfortunate side effect of creating some moments, especially in the final act, that don’t feel truly “earned.” Jobs is a complex and not particularly likable character, so to give the character a broad emotional arc in such a short timeframe feels forced and disingenuous. Jobs becomes a victim of its own cleverness in its final scenes, but despite some stumbles is an insatiably watchable drama that didn’t deserve the box-office drubbing it received.

Oh yeah, and it was directed by Danny Boyle. For what that’s worth.

ROOM

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Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larsen in Room (A24)

Go see Room if it’s playing in your area, and keep an eye out for its expansion as we get deeper into awards season. Since most people have not gotten the chance to see it, and the film is VERY spoil-able, I’m keeping my thoughts restricted mostly to the first act. In addition, I would heavily dissuade you from watching the trailer for this reason.

Brie Larsen is an actress we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming years, with any luck. She’s turned in consistently excellent performances in both dramatic (Short Term 12) and comedic (Trainwreck) roles and her performance in Room may be her most powerful yet. As the film begins Larsen’s character, referred to only as “Ma,” is locked in a cramped one-room living space with her son Jack, played with at times startling vulnerability and intensity by Jacob Tremblay. Jack has never been outside. A world has been constructed for him, of proper nouns and imagined friendships. He lives in Room. He sits on Chair, sleeps in Bed, etc. He watches TV, but those things aren’t real. As Jack reaches his fifth birthday, Ma’s desperation at her situation increases.

I’ll go no further, because if you’re not familiar with the source novel by Emma Donoghue (who also penned the screenplay) grappling with what happens to Ma and Jack, and the emotional wreckage that must inevitably be cleaned up, is part of what makes this story so harrowing and effective, perhaps in spite of Room’s somewhat workmanlike visual style. Considering the amount of screen time the audience spends in Room, the environment and layout of the space are not laid out in a particularly compelling way. I never truly got a feel for the geography and spatial relationships of Room like I expected to. Much of Room is a bottle movie, and those are hard to make. Regardless of some film school-y nitpicks, Room is a compelling and important commentary on grief, abuse and recovery and should be seen.

BURNT

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Bradley Cooper in Burnt (The Weinstein Company)

Watch Ratatouille or Chef (or both!). Skip Burnt. Next.

THE PEANUTS MOVIE

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The Peanuts Movie (20th Century Fox)

2015 has brought us some high-quality family films (Paddington, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie) and I’m pleased to say The Peanuts Movie is another home run. Just like Charles Schultz’s long-running comic strip, it’s earnest, uncomplicated and delightfully melancholy. With active participation of the Schultz estate, Peanuts has a spirit that feels timeless, and plants itself in 2015 only in its non-diegetic, i.e. technical , elements. The Peanuts Movie is planted firmly out of time, in a post-WWII suburban neighborhood at a time when nobody has a cell phone, and Charlie Brown still has to check a book out of the library.

The visuals, while clearly CG, possess a certain tangible weight and texture that mimics stop-motion. In a fascinating compromise between traditional 3D animation and the strip’s iconic style, the characters are rendered close to flat and are displayed only straight-on, in profile or at at about a 45° angle. The animation is slightly rough around the edges which gives the film an unexpectedly handmade feel.

Translated from simple drawings in small boxes on newsprint to the big screen in 3-D, The Peanuts have somehow lost none of their charm. In several sequences Schultz’s line drawings are used directly and the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock come courtesy of archival audio of the late actor Bill Melendez, who voiced the characters in several classic Charlie Brown specials. Aside from the 3D, the only thing that really dates the film is a gaudy pop song or two. The Peanuts Movie doesn’t break any new narrative ground or illuminate anything new about the characters, but it’s a really nice way to spend 85 minutes.

Watch this space for another crop of reviews in the coming days, and find Part 1 of this piece here.

 

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