“Steve Jobs” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Michael Fassbender gives one of the year’s best performances in the title role in “Steve Jobs,” a fascinating look into the complex mind of the Apple Computers genius. Foregoing the traditional biopic format, director Danny Boyle successfully opts to tell Jobs’ story in three thrilling acts, each taking place before product launches of the Macintosh Computer in 1984, the NeXT black box in 1988 and the iMac in 1998.
Unlike the previous Apple co-founder biopic — the 2013 Aston Kutcher bomb “Jobs” — “Steve Jobs” pulls no punches when illustrating the Jobs’ scornful behavior. Some of the most notable scenes chronicle his ugly child support battle with his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the public lambasting of co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen, in a familiar feeling portrayal), and Macintosh co-designer Andy Hertzfeld (an excellent Michael Stuhlbarg); as well as an examination of his volatile relationship with Apple CEO John Sculley (the always great Jeff Daniels).
If it’s to be believed (Apple and Jobs’ widow have raised objections over the film), Jobs was hated by most everybody he worked with (the exception being his loyal marketing guru Joanna Hoffman, expertly played by Kate Winslet). The interesting thing is, Boyle, through Aaron Sorkin’s searing script, tries to examine just why Jobs was the way he was — mostly because he was a socially inept genius who simply thought about things on an entirely different plane.
There’s a telling line early in the film where Jobs tells Sculley something to the effect of, “I like you John — you’re the only one who sees the world the same way I do”; to which Sculley responds, “No one sees the world the way you do, Steve.” In a way, it tells us that Jobs’ prickish behavior wasn’t necessarily born out of hatred, but rather his frustration that people simply don’t understand him. There’s no question Steve Jobs was one of a kind, and so is this movie.
“Crimson Peak” (R) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Gifted filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro sadly falls short of delivering on his film’s promise with “Crimson Peak,” a beautifully constructed and admirably acted Gothic horror thriller that is hobbled by its predictable story-line.
Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) stars as Edith Cushing, an aspiring American Gothic romance novelist in the late 1800s who is swept off her feet by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a charismatic British aristocrat. After marrying Thomas, Edith moves to her husband’s native England along with his suspicious sister, Lucille (a creepy Jessica Chastain) — only to discover their family’s mansion houses gruesome secrets, and there is no way to escape.
There’s no question Del Toro has an incredible handle in filmmaking, as he artfully brings back to life the types of settings and atmosphere that gave the Hammer horror films of the 1960s and ’70s a special brand of eeriness (plus, Edith Cushing’s surname is an obvious ode to late, great Hammer star Peter Cushing). While at its heart “Crimson Peak” is a haunted housed thriller (Del Toro’s ghosts are as creatively fashioned as anything you’ve seen in his previous thrillers), the script feels as vacant as the sprawling Sharpe mansion. True, the scenes with the specters of Edith’s, Thomas’ and Lucille’s haunted pasts are thrilling, but ultimately, the motivation of the siblings and their lurid back story come as no big surprise when they’re finally revealed.
Ultimately, “Crimson Peak” isn’t a bad movie; just a disappointing one that fails to meet its potential given the level of talent involved.
“Bridge of Spies” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
“Bridge of Spies” has almost everything you would hope for out of a Steven Spielberg film: It transports you back to an important set of events in U.S. history, while being beautifully photographed and having a cast of colorful, convincing characters, including an Oscar-worthy performance by Mark Rylance. The theater veteran’s performance is so strong in fact, that it can’t help but highlight the film’s glaring weakness, involving someone in the cast that you’d least expect.
Tom Hanks stars as James B. Donovan, an idealistic New York City attorney tasked by the government to represent Rudolf Abel (Rylance) after he is detained in the city and accused of being a spy at the height of the Cold War. Asked to go through the formalities for a quick and speedy resolution — effectively, to put on a show so that no accusations could be levied saying that Abel didn’t have fair representation — Donovan instead represents the alleged spy in earnest. It’s a move that ultimately saves Abel’s life, and makes him a valuable asset for trade when an American pilot is shot down during a spy mission over East Germany.
Spielberg effectively presents “Bridge of Spies” in two acts: first, as it concerns the trial, and second, the exchange of spies with the Soviets in East Germany. For those looking for an intense spy thriller, you’ll only get it in the second act, and the thrills are limited at best. Action-wise, “Bridge of Spies” only has one scene of note, when the American pilot’s plane is shot-down in the enemy’s air space.
While “Bridge of Spies” has several strengths, the biggest problem with the film, honestly, is its leading man, as Hanks’ umpteenth turn as the good guy is starting to wear dangerously thin. There’s no doubt that Hanks can act, it just at this point feels like he playing the same type of role over and over again. It would have been interesting to see him take on Rylance’s role, which is played with brilliant ambiguity. Instead, we get another film where it feels like Hanks is just reading lines. In the wake of “Bridge of Spies,” somebody needs to infiltrate Hanks’ management and urge that the Oscar-winning actor start taking more risks. His career will be all the better for it.