Steve Jobs — film evaluation: ‘Loudly enjoyable’

From left, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet in 'Steve Jobs'

From left, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet in ‘Steve Jobs’

Now, when an Apple pc goes negative on us, we see the dreaded beachball, spinning hatefully on our screen. But considering that Steve Jobs starts in 1984, an older icon carries the same message: the graphic of a bomb at which older viewers will instinctively wince, glimpsed behind our man as he waits to unveil the first Apple Macintosh in Cupertino, California. This glitch sets the film in motion, Jobs (Michael Fassbender, his lack of resemblance defiant) demanding solutions from his individuals. Set against an anxious tick-tock soundtrack, the bomb is also a symbol for its subject: raging, haranguing, he looks set to go off ahead of the crowd even arrives.

Fourteen years later, he creates (ish) the iMac, the machine credited with inspiring his company’s rise to omnipotence. There, in short, is the arc of this loudly enjoyable film, unfolding over 3 fraught product launches (among the Macintosh and the iMac comes a middle act with Jobs exiled from Apple and pushing the Subsequent Laptop). The film is directed by Danny Boyle, his operate slick and pacy. But his genuine achievement is generating cinema out of material that is not even a stage play as a lot as extremely high-priced radio: a battery of dialogue, unbroken by reflective pauses or even, on occasion, the actors drawing breath.

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Such is the mark of the film’s real mastermind: its writer Aaron Sorkin, grandmaster of backstage voyeurism, supplying the identical relentless rapidly speak as he did The West Wing and that other portrait of tech innovation, The Social Network. The trigger of the opening snafu is the Macintosh’s failure to say an audible “Hello”. “If you hold alienating people,” warns Jobs’ weary publicist Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), “there’ll be no one left to say hello to.”

You might smile at this, as with out any individual for Jobs to say hello to, Sorkin too would be lost. Though Jobs gets the very best lines, everybody is provided a zinger if they hang around long adequate. “Artists lead and hacks ask for a show of hands,” spits Jobs. “You walk around like you have got Cannot Shed cards,” Hoffman laments. In case he’s more than-reached, Sorkin even throws in a caveat: “It sounds great but it doesn’t mean something!”

Vigorously nodding to Citizen Kane, the script scatters Rosebuds to clarify its subject’s flaws. Nearing outright villainy early on — shirking responsibility for his infant daughter — Jobs in later stages displays a certain mellowing, at least with his kid. For the rest of us, the film suggests, effectively, that’s greatness for you. Place like that it sounds pat, but on screen, it sounds exhilarating.

The genius of Jobs finally emerges: the man who “can’t put a hammer to a nail” but sees, ahead of anyone else, that the public will embrace sleek merchandise marketed as tools of private liberation that in truth remove significantly of their personal option. “The Mac is mine,” he points out. By the finish, Jobs has been compared to Julius Caesar, da Vinci and God. In this script, that leaves him second only to Sorkin.

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Section: Arts


Brooklyn — film evaluation: ‘Old-fashioned perfection’

Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen in 'Brooklyn'

Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen in ‘Brooklyn’

Brooklyn has an old-fashioned perfection so incandescent, and so winning, that it is nearly spooky. It could have come from an alternative, postmodern universe. What on Earth (or on any parallel planet of your selection) can modern cinema be carrying out crafting a lush 1950s-set adore story, opulently scored, effulgently period-detailed and full of performances so stand-and-emote they may have been born in a Universal Pictures weepie, circa Magnificent Obsession (1954)?

Star Saoirse Ronan is, right here at least, a sort of earthy Lana Turner. She is superb as Eilis (pronounced Aylish), the Irish girl 1st swept off to Brooklyn, New York, for a job arranged by a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent), then swept back to Ireland on a family death to expertise the war for her heart, and in her heart, amongst a lovestruck regional youth (Domhnall Gleeson) and the handsome plumber boy (Emory Cohen) she left in America, with a pledge to return.

It is only a BBC/British Film Institute/Irish Film Board joint venture — no spendthrift production values — adapted from Colm Tóibín’s wistful bestseller. But Citizen Kane was only a poor small wealthy boy story. I’m not positive what screenwriter Nick Hornby and director John Crowley have done to magic up this simple yarn. Is it the dialogue, tying up so a lot depth of feeling with the simplest verbal ribboning? Is it the density of François Séguin’s production design and style, with every new setting miraculously persuasive from the dingy-wallpapered New York tenement rooms to the plant-thick parlour (a jungle of the genteel!) of the spiteful old Irish biddy who becomes Eilis’s nemesis?

In part, or in massive, it is the acting. Gleeson and Cohen bring a shy yet lustrous charm to their boy suitors. Broadbent and Julie Walters, who prongs and heats her Brooklyn-Irish landlady with a seriocomical toasting fork, have memorable cameos.

Ronan herself has grow to be a sort of invisible-acting prodigy. You never see the seams or workmanship in her performances (Atonement, How I Live Now ). She inhabits Eilis as if part and player, fused, have been a clear and lovely blur of emotional identification.

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Section: Arts


The Program — film evaluation

Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong in 'The Program'

Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong in ‘The Program’

As you envision Lance Armstrong himself reflects a couple of hundred occasions a day, his story could have ended so differently. Had he not selected to stage an ego-driven comeback to expert cycling in 2009, he would probably never have been exposed as a cheat, and The System — the tale of his dope-fuelled rise and hubris-riddled fall — would by no means have been produced. The inevitable biopic would as an alternative have been the mythic celebration hinted at in a scene right here, as a teammate reacts to casting news: “Jake Gyllenhaal? Dude, that is great.”

It’s unlikely Stephen Frears would have produced that movie, even though in the course of his version, which stars Ben Foster, we catch the occasional glimpse of it. Frears brings vigour to recreating Armstrong’s Tours de France, the angles of his mountain climbs so canted our lungs burn in sympathy.

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But in this brisk, enjoyable film, adapted from journalist David Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins, Armstrong and practically each and every cyclist involved spends as a lot time propped up in bed as in the saddle, appended to an IV or syringe. Even a filmmaker less sardonic than Frears would be tempted to discover room on the soundtrack, as he does, for The Fall’s “Mr Pharmacist”. The rot has already set in before the cancer diagnosis that cements the Armstrong legend soon after his recovery comes the ascent into the superman of Mont Ventoux and, in private, manic self-justification: “I do not die!” he roars, summoning the lawyers.

He will not be, but Armstrong should be glad to have inspired a turn as remarkable as Foster’s. The actor seems to slip into the really bones of his character the effect can be unnerving. Frears is far more detached, content to furnish the story with a wry sense of mischief. The System nudges us into asking regardless of whether, when everyone in a sport is cheating, any person is cheating at all. But it’s also loath to indulge in what Orson Welles named “dollar-book Freud”, and Lance rides off with his mystery intact.

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Section: Arts


The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London — evaluation

Simon Schama curates an exhibition that explores British portraiture through themes

Self-portrait by Gwen John Simon Weston by Nicky Philipps

Self-portrait by Gwen John Simon Weston by Nicky Philipps

“The faces which look out at us from the past are the surest indication we have of the which means of an epoch.” So stated the art historian Kenneth Clark, and I think Simon Schama would almost certainly agree with him. A new exhibition curated by Schama, The Face of Britain: The Nation Via its Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London, shows above all that portraits, be they painted, drawn, printed or clicked, are about some thing much more than a simple likeness they are a reflection of the time and situations of their creation. And, in fretting about the ephemerality of today’s selfie-snapping, I suspect that Schama is attempting to put his finger on the meaning of our personal age.

Schama’s central thesis on portraiture, which he also develops in a book and forthcoming BBC2 series, is that it emerges from a “triangular collision of wills amongst sitter, artist and public”. For the most part this is accurate, although art historians and curators have a tendency these days to see “tension” everywhere. A literal example of such a collision is Graham Sutherland’s doomed 1954 portrait of Winston Churchill, the story of which is engagingly told in the exhibition with preparatory studies and archive footage.

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The portrait was commissioned by the Homes of Parliament. Sutherland, a gifted, perceptive but rather stubborn artist, chose not to stick to the suggestions (if he knew it) of the wonderful 18th-century portraitist Joshua Reynolds: if a painter “cannot make his hero speak like a great man he must make him appear like one”. Rather, Sutherland saw before him an old, occasionally shambling man prone to dozing off. So that is what he painted.

Sutherland’s portrait was also truthful for its time. Churchill hated it. To everyone’s discomfort, the presentation ceremony went ahead, broadcast on television from Westminster, where Churchill mocked the picture by calling it a “remarkable example of modern art”. In these days, to contact art “modern” was one thing of an insult. Some years later, Clementine Churchill’s private secretary burnt the painting, to her employer’s delight. (Or so the story goes Harold Wilson utilised to claim it was not destroyed, and, touching the tip of his nose, would add: “I know exactly where it is.”)

Churchill had wanted a lot more manage over his image, like most holders of power. Elizabeth I directed Nicholas Hilliard to show her face with “no shadow at all” — that is, no wrinkles. And the exhibition showcases two instances of Margaret Thatcher’s portrait meddling she insisted on smiling for Helmut Newton’s camera in 1991, in case not doing so produced her appear “disagreeable”, even though for Rodrigo Moynihan’s oil portrait of 1983/85 Thatcher not only changed the colour scheme, but even the depiction of her eyes. Her interference is blamed by the National Portrait Gallery for “a compromised painting that speaks of artistic flare extinguished”, even though in truth it is tough to see much artistic flare in Moynihan’s work usually.

The exhibition reveals a lot of such entertaining tales, and there are gems worth seeing. The self-portraits by Gwen John and Lucian Freud are among the ideal you will see, and they prove — perhaps inconveniently — that portraitists excel when totally free to ignore the demands of paying sitters. Nicky Philipps’ portrait of the Falklands veteran Simon Weston, for example, is that uncommon thing: a good modern portrait in oil. And the wit of James Gillray’s satirical caricatures still resonates today.

There are limitations, nonetheless, and they are mainly self-imposed. Like the series and the book, the display explores the history of British portraiture not chronologically but by way of themes “power”, “love”, “fame”, “self” and
“people” (as in “ordinary people”, not posh ones). In the book (and doubtless the series) the thematic approach works when it is held together by Schama’s wide selection of portraits, his enthusiasm, and some of the best writing on British portraiture I have read. But take Schama away, replace his energetic presence with wall text and labels, and the themes at times fail to provide.

What ought to have been a defining moment in the gallery’s mission to showcase British history by means of portraiture is alternatively an inconsistent, somewhat forced display. That it is spread about the developing in separate rooms (or in curatorial-speak, “interventions”) does not help. And nor do the themes look always to make sense. The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare is often a pleasure to see, specifically when rival Shakespeare portraits are “discovered” almost weekly. But it fits oddly right here in “fame” (and by the staircase), for Shakespeare was not a celebrity in his lifetime in the way we would recognise today. Certainly, the Chandos portrait is so in contrast to history’s vision of fame that 19th-century viewers felt the require to tinker with it, giving Shakespeare longer hair to make him look much less like an accountant and much more like a playwright.

The gallery says the exhibition “has been created in wider discussion with National Portrait Gallery curators”, and at occasions the display does really feel like the operate of a committee. Nowhere is this much more apparent than in the “Introductory” section, where the 5 themes are introduced as follows: Margaret Thatcher for “power” the abolitionist William Wilberforce for “fame” George Leigh Mallory (by Duncan Grant) for “love” the 19th-century black actor Ira Aldridge for “people” and a self-portrait by the Scottish painter Anna Zinkeisen for “self”. These are all fine portraits, but such box-ticking shows how subjective a thematic interpretation of British portraiture must be.

This is not, as a result, the face of Britain as it truly existed. Right here you will discover no imperialists, no rich merchants, and surely no slave traders. As an alternative, it is the face of Britain we want had existed inclusive, romantic, and (mostly) agreeable. From within this thicket of political correctness, we struggle to draw any broader conclusions about the history of the British face, or the artists who developed it. But perhaps that is not the point. For these curated faces inform us a lot more about present ideals than past realities.

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Section: Arts


No Escape — film evaluation

Owen Wilson stars in a tense thriller about an American family escaping an Asian coup

Owen Wilson in 'No Escape'

Owen Wilson in ‘No Escape’

What we require is a thriller film festival with a Palme d’Eau for best prize. My palms were wet with sweat in the course of an early scene of No Escape. (And yes, readers and pedants, I know: strictly, Gallically, that ought to be Paume d’Eau.) It is the moment when American contractor Owen Wilson tries to save his two tiny daughters by throwing them from a single rooftop to an additional, across a perilous gap, as his household flees coup-staging rebels, slaying all in a nameless Asian city. (The film was shot in Thailand but matches specs, which includes a Vietnam border, with Cambodia.)

Air-drying extremities, I kept firm with Wilson, children and wife Lake Bell, plus Pierce Brosnan as the mystery Brit befriending them, while they moved on to further dangers. Brosnan gets the only short, perfunctory political speech, close to the close of a pulse-racing story which, pace its title is tiny but escapism. Who are the rebels? What’s their beef? Whom are they overthrowing? In no way thoughts all that. Just feel the cinegenic gusts of panic, skilled story ploys and give-it-almost everything principal performances.

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Wilson and Bell go beyond hokum’s contact in lending vivid feelings to their mum and dad. The kids are as great. And Brosnan does cockney geezerism — glottal stops and sartorial slop, plus stubble-bearded mateyness — as if the words “Bond, James Bond” had never passed his lips.

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Section: Arts