This Week In Movies 1: Steve Jobs, The Lady in the Van, Brooklyn REVIEWED

THIS WEEK IN MOVIES…

  • An algorithm claims 28% of American men could be a certain child’s father…
  • A homeless woman chases down a child orchestra and…
  • THE MOST OBVIOUS OSCAR BAIT MOVIE OF ALL TIME!

AN INTRODUCTION

So, I’ve got some explaining to do, I suppose. My name is James, and I am a lover of all things cinema – in fact I’m probably an obsessive, but it’s an obsession I’m not ashamed of celebrating. Setting up a blog about movies, for me anyway, was an inevitability; like an Adam Sandler movie being shit, or an M.Night Shyamalan plot twist.

Films for me are experiences far greater than just going to a cinema screen and sitting down for a couple of hours through some pretentious Nissan adverts – films are processes of months, years, sometimes decades in the case of some films (did you know, for example, that it took nearly thirty years to get the first Spider-Man film off the ground? That’s just one of the pointless golden nuggets of information I’ll provide that you’ll never need). It all begins with the appointments. Losing my mind over the appointment of a director on some summer comedy that’s bound to be terrible anyway or getting annoyed at Jai Courtney being constantly cast in movies that deserve better is what I do best, because of two reasons: nobody else is sad enough to do it, and nobody else can get quite so worked up about it.

And then the movies actually arrive, and over the course of a year they will make me feel a variety of different emotions. Some films will hit me right in the heart and make me want to stay in my seat and ask the cinema to play it on a loop. Others I will forget about near-instantly and not talk about again, and some movies will make me want to jump in front of a bus. Taken 3 made me want to do that. Terminator Genisys made me want to do that. Fantastic Four made me want to jump through a bus, hijack that bus and drive it into a train in order to take the bus with me into the circles of cinematic hell.

Some will be hits, others flops; Some will win Oscars, others Razzies; and some will go down in history for their qualities or lack thereof. Every week about 20 movies go through that cycle on different paths, and every week at least one of them will make headlines. This Week In Movies is a pretty self-explanatory blog – it’s a weekly blog about movies. One week, one blog, all the major films reviewed, the big stories from the movie world – and what would it be without a massive amount of shouting? As well as that, there’ll be other features like trailer reactions and retrospective reviews along the way, ironic and sometimes analytical (but mostly comic) lists and editorials when an issue in the world of cinema gets me talking even more.

But that’s all coming up. Strap yourselves in for all the stuff that happened This Week In Movies…

THE NEWS

  • BLANCHETT SIGNS UP FOR LINKLATER ADAPTATION: Since 2014’s Boyhood was a critical smash and only just missed out on last year’s Best Picture prize, anticipation for indie director Richard Linklater’s (School of Rock, the Before trilogy) follow-up film has been fever pitch – after rejecting the chance to direct Jennifer Lawrence in Sony’s The Rosie Project, it has been announced that two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings, Cinderella) is set to star in an adaptation of the best-selling novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A release date and distributor for the film, which will surely be put into the Oscar race, is currently unknown. In other news relative to Boyhood, Patricia Arquette (who won Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film) has been cast in a voice role for Toy Story 4 – a movie which needs no introduction.
  • MINIONS PRODUCERS CAST A-LISTERS FOR NEW MUSICAL: Illumination Entertainment, the animation company behind the mega-successful Despicable Me franchise, have announced the cast list for new musical Sing and it is a monster. McConaughey; MacFarlane; Witherspoon, Johansson, and others will star as a variety of animals competing in a music contest – Sing is set up at Universal Pictures, and promises nearly 100 songs to be featured over its running time (may God help us). Scarlett Johansson (Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lucy) is also eyeing up an adaptation of upcoming memoir ‘Crash Override: How To Save The Internet From Itself’. Set up by former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal, Johansson would star in the lead role of Zoe Quinn, who became the target of online threats after a negative blog written about her by a game developer ex-boyfriend.
  • LIVE ACTION MERMAID CASTS MORETZ: After the departure of director Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation) from the project, it came as a siight surprise this week that Working Title Films, the British production company behind last year’s Theory of Everything, is still pushing forth with their live-action The Little Mermaid, set up at Universal Pictures. While previously rumoured that she had already been cast, Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, If I Stay) was finally confirmed to star this week. Moretz, who is due a breakout lead role considering her name recognition and major online prescence, was the studio’s first choice – but certainly not Coppola’s, whose departure is rumoured to be related to the casting negotiations. Richard Curtis has been signed on to write the screenplay, but whether he will replace Coppola as director is unknown. In other fairy-tale movie news, planned Aladdin prequel Genies has been cancelled by Disney, although I don’t think they’re short for fairy-tale adaptations over the next few years (the list is astonishingly long).

REVIEWS

steve-jobs-movie-seth-rogan  STEVE JOBS (Universal)

Dir. Danny Boyle, Script. Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

Plot: A character study of the infamous Apple founder (Fassbender) over three significant product launches, all of which are threatened by behind-the-scenes drama.

THE NARROW CORRIDORS and backstage alleyways are the perfect backdrop to Steve Jobs, a two-hour talk opera that somehow is able to mask (convincingly) as a visceral thriller. Written by The Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin, the film takes after his last cinematic work heavily, so much so that its director David Fincher had been hired for the project originally before he dropped out. The interior workings of Steve Jobs have been laid all too bare, more so than potentially any other movie, after the cyber attack on Sony Pictures revealed a swathe of angry e-mails and controversies that almost put the film to bed.

One such e-mail, from Sorkin, claimed that “I don’t know who Michael Fassbender is and the rest of the world isn’t going to care” when he heard the news of his casting as Jobs, a third-choice after Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale passed. However, Fassbender and Sorkin are a wonderful marriage throughout Steve Jobs; Fassbender shines as the Apple founder, an Aspergerish cross between Macbeth and Magneto, playing him cold, calculating and equal parts menacing. Coupled with Sorkin’s dialogue, at times absolutely exceptional although occasionally overwrought, Fassbender is somehow able to play a convincing Jobs despite looking absolutely nothing like the man himself. The supporting cast also lights up under Sorkin, who writes brilliant and lively characters for the big talent involved – Rogen makes a grounded Steve Wozniak, and Kate Winslet puts in a strong performance as Jobs’ secretary and confidante.

However, Boyle feels out of place – the British director made his name on highly kinetic films such as Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, and while his direction of Sorkin’s theatre-like screenplay is solid, their collaboration feels more like a battle than a combination – two vastly different styles at war. Boyle’s best moments occur when the audiences for Apple’s product launches begin to bounce, and the music and lights begin to flash. For the rest of the movie however, he takes a back seat to Sorkin. And, while Sorkin’s three-act story structure is clever, it is unclear as to whether any of the characters truly develop over the course of the film; Jobs and Wozniak are having the same arguments from start to finish.

The movie feels cold as well – the depiction of Jobs as a volatile and unsympathetic character made it difficult for me to get invested in his story emotionally. All of the characters, with the exception of repeatedly-shunned child Lisa (various actresses), seem to have absolutely no remorse, sympathy, or ability to be rational. If Sorkin was attempting to portray Jobs as stubborn and irrational in nature, then there’s no point portraying everyone else in the film as such or else he fails to stand out. For a film concerned with the selling of computers, the film seems to have very little human element – but as a character study of someone who struggled in that respect, the film is highly intense and, occasionally, darkly funny.

RATING: 3/4

The-Lady-In-The-Van-Review  THE LADY IN THE VAN (Sony/TriStar)

Dir. Nicholas Hytner, Script. Alan Bennett

Cast: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings

Plot: West End writer Alan Bennett (Jennings) forges an unlikely (and unwanted) friendship with mysterious homeless woman Miss Shepherd (Smith) that leads to her staying in a van in his driveway.

IT’S SLIGHTLY SAD to see Maggie Smith’s variety of roles these days; the acclaimed British thespian, known to most as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, seems to only play characters that are dead or dying. But her role as homeless woman Miss Shepherd elicits a different kind of sympathy – a wish that she merely slip away in every scene, for hope that she no longer has to live with her madness or anyone else does.

Adapted from the hit West End play of the same name, the cinematic version of The Lady in the Van retains the device of having two Alan Bennetts: the Bennett that lives his daily life, and the writer Bennett that documents it (both played by Olivier Award winning theatre-actor Alex Jennings). While this device allows us to get into Bennett’s psyche and understand his thoughts, it can get REALLY annoying, REALLY quickly. Especially if you don’t like Jennings’s northern voice, which you get used to but will find grating from the moment he opens his mouth. Occasionally, the use of the device becomes extremely meta, showing the writer Bennett changing the story in real-time, but this comes across as pretentious and jarring.

Jennings’ performance makes the two Alans relatively likeable characters, and as the story develops you feel an increasing sympathy for his situation. However, this sympathy turns to frustration in many scenes, and as the years went by I felt myself crying out for him to kill Maggie Smith – her performance as a mad woman actually turns tragic as more is revealed about her past, and it is a testament to her ability as an actor that you can identify with her. But you identify with her in such a way that your desire for Miss Shepherd to pass on to the van in the sky increases constantly, out of mercy for her.

The film also seems confused over which genre it wants to be. I found The Lady In The Van to aim for lowbrow laughs too much to be a drama, but too serious in its depiction of old age (Sidenote: the comparison between Shepherd and Bennett’s elderly mother over the course of the film is very good) to be a comedy. Overall, this can be a bit confusing – I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry in some scenes in The Lady In The Van. The film is also far too long, with very little action or character development to justify the film’s 102 minute running time. With the exception of a kind of ‘Where’s Wally?’ style game trying to find the living cast members of director Nicholas Hytner and Bennett’s only previous cinematic team-up, The History Boys, their second outing feels empty in comparison.

RATING: 2/4

e4a39c4b-5d50-4a63-9ccb-b037673e6e23-620x372  BROOKLYN (Lionsgate)

Dir. John Crowley, Script. Nick Hornby

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domnhall Gleeson, Emory Cohen

Plot: Just as Irish immigrant Ellis (Ronan) begins to settle in to 1950’s Brooklyn, NY, a terrible tragedy forces her back home to Ireland and tries to keep her there.

(NB: This was out last week, but I thought I might as well go all out for the first entry)

A BEST PICTURE nomination will be posted through the letterbox with all due haste for Brooklyn, an adaptation of the 2009 Colm Tóibín novel that goes directly for the Academy’s jaw and lands a brilliant uppercut. The period setting, romantic drama and near-flawless depiction of America are all classic Oscar tactics. The film pleads for their approval like a ten-year-old who wants a new iPhone. But Brooklyn’s puppy dog stare is magnificently effective – it tugs at your heartstrings remorselessly for its frustratingly short running time.

Getting Nick Hornby to adapt the novel to screen was a perfect choice. Hornby’s dialogue, while a little on the nose, treads the line between heavy drama and comic relief with a nimble touch, and in the lead character of Ellis, Hornby creates a strong, three-dimensional powerhouse of a character for Saoirse Ronan to strangle by the horns. Ronan has been due a role like this for some years, and she does not let it pass her by; the Irish-born actress anchors the film perfectly with a subtle, nuanced performance, so that when her emotions boil over to the surface the effect is startling. This is a juggernaut of a performance that will surely put her name in the Oscar hat for Best Actress.

Her support is wonderful to watch also: Domnhall Gleeson once again shows why he is one of Britain’s finest young actors in the role of an Irish lad about to come into property. The joy in watching Gleeson is in what he leaves for his audience to fill in for themselves, and through his straight delivery of Hornby’s equally straight dialogue, Gleeson creates a surprisingly complex character. Julie Walters appears in brief vignettes as a host mother in Brooklyn and is raucously funny each time she enters the frame. But the real breakout is Emory Cohen as love interest Tony. Cohen is a compelling romantic lead and holds the screen from the moment he enters it – he grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go.

And if you go to Brooklyn looking for flaws, you’ll be predominantly disappointed. The production design of both Brooklyn and Ellis’s small Irish town is absolutely fantastic and lavish, with the period costumes especially magnificent. The only genuine flaw that I could find was its ending, which is a very good and highly satisfying ending for what it was but feels like it comes eons to early and eons too conveniently – the highly intricate situation Brooklyn puts forward is resolved within about five minutes after a conversation ex machina, and once the final freeze-frame arrived I couldn’t help but feel frustrated not to see the fallout and how Brooklyn‘s narrative progressed further. Certainly, there’s no reason why the film couldn’t go for another half-hour past its 112 minute length – this film is a serious awards juggernaut, and a crowd-pleaser as well; expect to hear about it for many more months.

RATING: 3.5/4

THE BOX OFFICE (6-12 November)

Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond-on-the-Set-of-SPECTRE

SPECTRE continued its domination of the UK Box Office last week, assassinating 2015’s former #1 UK grosser Jurassic World in the process. SPECTRE is currently outpacing predecessor Skyfall, but the film’s mixed reviews seem to be hurting its commercial legs as it suffered a 34% week-to-week drop in its second outing – Skyfall, comparatively, suffered a drop of only 20%. Brooklyn did surprisingly strong business in its opening week earning just over £1m to earn the title of best of the rest, while Bradley Cooper passion project Burnt was a slight disappointment in third with less than half of Brooklyn‘s gate on its first outing – its commercial cast suggested that it had better prospects.

3a82089e6b84e225_peanuts3x2

Over in the United States, the first weekend of November reinvigorated a stagnating box office with SPECTRE making its Stateside debut, as well as Blue Sky Animation’s $100m The Peanuts Movie. SPECTRE topped proceedings with a $70.4m three-day opening, around $18m less than Skyfall achieved three years ago. Reports have suggested that production problems and a ballooning production budget have created a situation whereby SPECTRE has to make $650m worldwide just to break even, and it’s slightly cool American opening suggests a worse-than-expected box office performance for the 24th Bond film. The Peanuts Movie opened to $44.2m for a strong second place, and a strong 8/10 IMDB score suggests that it will have legs as well – the film (titled Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie here) drops into UK multiplexes on 21/12.

NEXT WEEK IN MOVIES

mockingjay-part-2-2

The fourth part of the trilogy, Mockingjay Part 2 concludes the Hunger Games franchise on Thursday. Besides that, nothing else will challenge the might of the Capitol as other major films have elected to steer clear of the weekend, knowing they’ve no chance against Jennifer Lawrence. Also, the latest news, a proper opening rather than introducing myself yet again, and a couple of features as well.

If you’ve made it this far, then I thank you for reading it, it means a lot. While you all have a wonderful week, I’ll prepare myself for the next one, knowing that if Mockingjay Part 2 is anything like the plodding, dull first part, then we’re absolutely fucked.

James Stephenson

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