Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

Movie reviews: ‘Steve Jobs,’ ‘Crimson Peak,’ ‘Bridge of Spies’

Michael Fassbender in 'Steve Jobs' (photo -- Universal)

By Tim Lammers

“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.

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“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.

Movie review: ‘Jurassic World’

Chris Pratt in 'Jurassic World'

By Tim Lammers

“Jurassic World” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Since the debut of Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur epic “Jurassic Park” in 1993, the setting and central plotline options for its sequels have been limited, to say the least: A remote island houses prehistoric creatures; prehistoric creatures escape confines; and prehistoric creatures wreak major havoc on humans. Yet, for those limits, “Jurassic World” makes it feel like “Jurassic Park” has come full circle.

Set appropriately 22 years after the brilliant original, “Jurassic World” returns to Isla Nubar to fulfill John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) vision, and with the last of the original “Jurassic Park” trilogy 14 years in our memories, the franchise reboot/sequel feels fresh. Stacked with the benefits of advancements in special effects technology and an affable leading man with “Guardians of the Galaxy” star Chris Pratt and equally-talented Bryce Dallas Howard, “Jurassic World,” despite the familiar scenario, is one hell of a thrill ride.

“Jurassic World” basically examines the “What If?” of a Disney theme park attraction gone horribly awry – where a billionaire financial backer, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), is constantly looking for ways to reinvent his island’s offerings to attract new visitors and keep a healthy financial bottom line after years of dwindling returns. Worried by his tourists being bored with Velociraptors, a T-Rex, Triceratops and the like, Masrani pushes Jurassic World’s team of scientists to create the Indominus Rex – a stronger, faster and smarter behemoth hybrid genetically spliced from the T. Rex and another creature that its engineers keep under wraps.

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While the likes of park manager Claire Dearing (Howard) undauntingly pushes  ahead with the debut of the Indominus Rex, famed dino-whisperer Owen Grady (Pratt, more serious than “Guardians” but still playful) has deep concerns. He knows how dinosaurs think, and soon enough, Grady’s nightmare becomes a reality and the Indominus escapes, either chomping, stomping or simply killing for sport everything that gets in its way. That’s a big problem considering there are 20,000 potential tourist victims just miles away on the other side of the island, including the sons (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) of Claire’s estranged sister (Judy Greer).

Of course, the most impressive part of “Jurassic World” is its dinosaurs, which through computer-generated effects and practical effects creates an awe-inspiring visual feast throughout. Accompanied by thundering sound and a 3D presentation that works wonderfully for a change, “Jurassic World” is intense throughout, whether through its chase scenes, or burning anticipation of where the Indominus is lurking, getting ready to strike its prey with little or no warning.

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Despite the film’s spectacular visual effects, the solid trio of Pratt (who is like a cross between Dr. Malcolm and Dr. Grant from the original), Howard and Vincent D’Onofrio  more than capably reign in the madness so the special effects don’t drown out the story. While “Jurassic World” is for the most part a summer popcorn thriller with lots of action and excitement, it is also, like the original, in part a cautionary tale about messing with nature, pushing the boundaries of science and commercializing it for financial gain. There’s also a subplot where a slimy character, Hoskins (D’Onofrio), waits for Indominus project to go south so he can put into to play a military strategy that involves the island aggressive dinosaurs.

Like the original “Jurassic Park” films, “Jurassic World” is horribly mis-marketed to young children through toys, fruit snacks and other products – so parents should be forewarned that kids under 10, frightened by the intensity and graphic nature of the film, want to duck under their seats. Despite the film’s PG-13 rating, director Collin Treverrow leaves little to the imagination, as the Indominus chomps its human and dinosaur victims with reckless abandon. At times, “Jurassic World” feels more like a monster movie (“Godzilla Meets Predator meet Jurassic Park”?) than an action adventure.

Given the level of violence and blood in the film, it’s a miracle Treverrow – who expertly directs “Jurassic World” – didn’t have his movie slapped with an R rating. The movie asks Jurassic World to up the ante to please it customers, and please his customers Treverrow does. It’s may not be the best movie in the “Jurassic” franchise, but it’s easily a strong second.

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