“Steve Jobs” — Hollywood’s latest crack at the Apple pioneer’s life checks off every Oscar season box and probably invents a few more. Great lead actor (Michael Fassbender). Killer screenwriter (Aaron Sorkin). Sublime supporting cast (Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Kate Winslet). But is it any good? It depends if you’re willing to spend two hours with an awful human being stuffed into three artificially crafted segments.
Director Danny Boyle sure found his Steve Jobs, though. Fassbender isn’t a doppelganger for the late Apple guru, but his coiled intensity and line readings are downright eerie in their precision. Yet why bother, when the story feels so stage-like in its presentation, so superficially engineered?
The film ends up being an accidental tribute to American entrepreneurism. If at first you don’t succeed, fail and fail again until you become a legend. The film downright worships Jobs, granting minor moments in Apple history the kind of stature typically reserved for socially aware biopics.
And if you didn’t get that memo, the awestruck look of the extras — presumably the Apple employees who cannot believe they get to share the same space with their creator — tells the full story.
Audiences, however, won’t feel quite so enamored with “Steve Jobs.”
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“Bridge of Spies” — Steven Spielberg’s latest film shows why he has few peers and how easily he trips over his own rhetorical feet. The film captures the true tale of an insurance lawyer (Tom Hanks) coaxed into defending a likely Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) just as the Cold War is heating up.
Hanks brims with “Everyman” gravitas, but it’s wasted when the film preaches about the need to give even the worst of the worst their day in court. We get it. Stop the lecturing.
“Spies” segues into a far more compelling story soon enough. An American pilot, Gary Powers, is shot down and captured by Soviet officials. Now, Hanks’ lawyer is tasked with a potential spy swap with serious geopolitical implications.
“Spies” opens with a gorgeous sequence of the Russian spy eluding unseen agents, a sign that Spielberg’s storytelling chops haven’t ebbed with time. Still, the story has too many clunky moments to ignore, making it one of the director’s lesser films.
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“Beasts of No Nation” — Netflix isn’t content to crash the television landscape with shows like “House of Cards.” Now, the streaming giant is bum-rushing your local cineplex, too. The company’s latest project debuts in both select theaters and its streaming service this weekend.
The first major Netflix film follows a West African child (a terrific Abraham Attah) forced to be a soldier in a grinding civil war. Young Agu is trained for combat by the charismatic Commandant (Idris Elba), who knows just what buttons to push to shred the humanity from his young charges. The lad is slowly acclimated to killing on command, a harrowing process captured without compromise.
Elba is sensational, a glowering menace who follows his own, sometimes noble code. Yet writer-director Cary Joji Fukanaga can’t make us care enough about Abu and his fellow soldiers. When one dies in the third reel we feel … nothing. “Beasts” is potent all the same, with remarkably cinematography and several gripping sequences not soon forgotten.
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“Goosebumps” — The scariest thing about this attempt to bring R.L. Stine’s spooky stories to the big screen is … Jack Black. For those who haven’t seen “Bernie” and watched Black’s range, that’s sour news. Black is terrific early on, and so is this teen-friendly frightfest.
Black plays a fictionalized Stine, a man obsessed with keeping his teen daughter (Odeya Rush) away from the new boy in town (Dylan Minnette). Said teen ends up unleashing the monsters in Stine’s fertile imagination, and a series of frenzied CGI chases ensue.
The movie takes pains to deliver age-appropriate scares, and that’s both welcome and rare. Too bad the action loses the magic of the source material. Those early spooks are replaced by action set pieces that feel light years away from Stine’s deliciously dark text.
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