Jobs – Film Review

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Before I watched Jobs the extent of my Steve Jobs knowledge was that he was The Apple Guy who helped Pixar become Pixar. When I worked as a bookseller at Waterstone’s my knowledge grew to, “yes, he died of pancreatic cancer, very sad. I do recommend the Walter Isaacson biography though, as it is the authorized version and is also in the three for two offer.”

For a long time, following his death, the Steve Jobs biodrama rumours, developments and production updates were everywhere – and then they were not.

Whilst holidaying in Iceland last December I nipped into a convenience store by my hotel and saw Ashton Kutcher’s ‘Steve Jobs’ face looking at me from a DVD bin. At first, what with that Technicolor artwork, I thought I was looking at some Nordic pirated version of a film that was never released. A bit of data roaming on my trusty Android quickly told me the DVD was legit and so I took it to the counter with a pair of sheep wool gloves and a bottle of Appelsin, surprised and happy that I could finally watch The Steve Jobs Movie.

Unfortunately, Jobs (because they must have realized that their original jOBS looked silly) is really quite dull. Let’s not for a moment think that The Social Network owns the corporate biodrama but iPhones and Facebook are related just enough for 21st century idiots to see one and expect the other.

The Social Network had the upper hand in that the worst thing it had going for it was that it was a movie about Facebook whereas Jobs suffered multiple disadvantages such as that it came second, it was made by nobodies, it stars Ashton Kutcher and it could not possibly match the quality of the film that audiences would inevitably compare it to.

To be fair, Kutcher does pretty well with what he is given and helping slightly is the fact that his physical resemblance to Steve Jobs really is quite uncanny. It feels irresponsible though considering the hype and story that it is based on that neither the film’s director nor producers could see that things were not going at all as well as they should have been with production.

Jobs isn’t bad, it’s just no better than a 90s television movie. Too kitsch in style and too rushed in narrative the movie attempts to focus on every bit of Jobs’ personality and career in its 2 hour runtime. The film clearly has ambition but its swarm of hurried plot and character developments makes for a biographical drama that is just too contextually vague and washed out.

The stars manage to carry the film with their myriad of underdog puppy eyes, arguments about Star Wars and frenemy bickering but much of that goes to waste because we are too distracted by the bad production values on offer with ridiculous camera zooms, weird beards and overly eccentric musical compositions being repeat offenders.

It simply seems like such a waste. There is three decades of rich drama to draw on (hey, I’m read up now) and the best the production crew could do was get actors who looked remarkably like those people the characters are based on to stand around whilst they filmed and edited the movie in the most weird and theatrical way they could think of.

If Jobs ever comes onto LoveFilm or Netflix sure, give it a watch, but don’t spend the Icelandic equivalent of £16 on it any time soon.

The Lego Movie – Film Review

The Lego Movie

We’ve had it rough slogging through toy-based films like Battleship and the Transformers franchise and the future doesn’t look so bright either, what with the Monopoly and (sigh) Hungry Hungry Hippos offenses on the way. Right now though, everything is awesome – or at least, The Lego Movie is.

One part South Park: Imaginationland and Toy Story; two parts The Matrix and 3.9 million parts Lego, The Lego Movie follows Emmet Brickowski, just another instruction-following nobody who learns that the happy go lucky hive mind mentality of the Lego people is down to the quasi-evil, monopolizing Lord Business who seeks “total perfection” throughout the Lego realms.

Joining a group of Master Builders after he unwittingly discovers that he is the prophesised “Special” who will end Lord Business’ aesthetically-pleasing-but-admittedly-naughty reign, Emmet is trained to unlock his imagination and lead the rebels attempting to set the Lego people’s minds free.

If that plot sounds a bit like it was written five minutes after reading the introduction to a Joseph Campbell book whilst watching a Wachowskis film, don’t worry: writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have never been all that great with innovative plotting. However, like with their unexpectedly amazing films Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, Lord and Miller make up for lax narrative with juvenile humour, manic on the nose dialogue and a fast-paced energy that even six year-olds struggle to keep up with.

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Whereas previous direct-to-DVD films and tie-in webisodes used realistic environments to help create their universes The Lego Movie comprises entirely of Lego pieces – excepting a couple of real world objects like highlighters and batteries as mystical ‘relics’ – creating an imperfect but quirky and unique style that grabs. Just wait until you are bobbing in the Lego sea or watching a cloud city explode and try to deny the beauty of this bitty animation; Frozen may have pretty snow and The Croods, gorgeous vistas but this is where the good stuff’s at.

This uber cool style, the aforementioned silliness and its immersively seamless hybrid of CGI and stop-motion puts us firmly into kid-mode and only the grumpiest of grumps will fail to see The Lego Movie’s merits. You’ll be running into the closest Argos as soon as the credits begin to roll.

With a sprawling cast of great voice talent and a solid 89 minutes of the film’s 100 comprising of some serious rib-tickling it’s hard to pick fault with the film’s tendency for schmaltz and tenuous plotting. On offer are double-decker sofas, tongue in cheek complaints that Lego instruction manuals are hellish and the most catchy (and clean) Lonely Island song you might ever hear. The Lego Movie is worth the wait that we never knew we were even waiting.

The Lego Movie is in UK cinemas from February 14th.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy – A Retrospective

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How now, brown cow. How now, brown cow.

Napoleon Dynamite, Team America: World Police, Mean Girls, Shaun of the Dead, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy; 2004 was a corker of a year for ridiculously quotable, instant cult-status comedy films. In this class of cinema sequels are few and far between and, more often than not, when one does come around recycled jokes and a loss of spark make them inferior. Odd then, that the general feeling towards the Anchorman sequel is one not of trepidation but excitement.

If I’m honest it took me a long time to come around to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy. I suffered from an unfortunate case of Stop Incessantly Quoting That Film, You Twerp that prevented me from even wanting to watch the blasted thing for four years. However, after the film was suggested for the sixty-seventh time during film night at university I caved, and I’ve never looked back. I immediately regretted that I hadn’t wanted Anchorman to be in me sooner.

A lot of comedies have come and gone in the last decade and yet Anchorman is still one of the most fondly remembered. From Baxter’s cheese eating habits to, well, Brick, Anchorman is loaded to the brim with eccentricities and characters built as if they were already universally loved (just look at this trailer for the original film). The comedies that collect the least dust on our shelves are the ones built with far-fetched and tenuous plots, incomparable stars and a variety show mentality – just try to tell me that Anchorman isn’t simply an excuse to plop a group of characters into a series of comically bizarre encounters to see how they react.

What makes Anchorman preside over other films that follow the aforementioned blueprint (like Superbad or The Hangover) is that the talent involved in The Legend of Ron Burgandy is a combined quintessence sketch troupe. With Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay (who incidentally co-founded, with producer Judd Apatow, Funny or Die) having found huge success on Saturday Night Live and most of the film’s cast having wide late night TV and/or improvisational backgrounds, Anchorman is littered with erratic comedy in every frame.

Like Wayne’s World or Dumb and Dumber or even any Monty Python movie before it, unadulterated comedy reins over actual plots and realism. As for sequels, how will we know that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues won’t just consist of recycled jokes (the reappearance of Brian Fontana’s jimmy cabinet in the trailer admittedly worried me). We don’t, but Anchorman 2 has something going for it that many substandard comedy sequels never did: the return of all the major cast and crew. Just look at Dumb and Dumberer, Son of The Mask, Evan Almighty or Ace Ventura Jr. for solid proof that a sequel without its originals will almost certainly suck.*

*-You’ll notice that all of those examples were Jim Carrey comedies and how that point relates to the only shred of hope that Dumb and Dumber To will be amazing.

Regardless, when Anchorman’s PR offered me a seat at a refresher screening for the film (an extremely rare thing) I jumped at a seat. The audience sat, giddy – I with a pint of milk (a good choice!) – bawling and quoting and cheering and we were all filled with unquestionable excitement for The Legend Continues. Let’s hope that 60% of the time, an Anchorman sequel works every time.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is in UK cinemas from 18th December.

 

This Ain’t Chemistry. This Is Art: An Analysis Of Breaking Bad And The Heisenberg Principle

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“You lost your partner today. What’s his name – Emilio? Emilio is going to prison. The DEA took all your money, your lab. You got nothing. Square one. But you know the business and I know the chemistry. I’m thinking… maybe you and I could partner up.”

Breaking Bad 101

When Breaking Bad first aired in the UK it was run on 5USA and then dropped after its second season failed to prove a hit for the network (possibly because of invisible marketing and obscure scheduling). Think about that for a moment. A show now widely heralded as perhaps the greatest television show ever – even over The Wire some say – was dropped by…… a sister of Channel 5. Luckily for those who did love the series, Netflix UK swooped in to give it a reprieve in early 2012 and it quickly became a poster child of the on-demand streaming service industry.

To be fair it’s not hard to see why in its earlier years broadcasters shied away from Breaking Bad. A show about a middle-aged man with cancer who decides to cook methamphetamine? That’s three counts on the studio exec’s “every successful show needs to be populated by young hotties, not be about a depressing illness and certainly not follow the corruption of man via a life of crime and moral ambiguity” chart. Who could ever see that being successful?

Truth is people want the grim. People want the corrupt. People want the tragic. The story of an above average-minded man living a pitifully average life before circumstances and a series of ill-thought out choices take him to extremely dark places is exactly what we, the ever-unhappy-with-our-own-lives, average viewers of television want.

Legacy, self-worth, family and a generous seasoning of tragedy: Breaking Bad is tight.

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“So it’s grade school t-ball versus the New York Yankees. Yours is just some tepid off-brand generic cola. What I’m making is classic Coke. … Do you really want to live in a world without Coca Cola?”

A World Full Of Classic Coke

Perhaps ashamedly I still haven’t seen all of The Wire or The Sopranos and I stopped watching Mad Men pretty early on (do people still consider that as one of the greats?) so to some I might not have much authority when I say this but Breaking Bad is easily one of the best television shows to ever grace (or disgrace) our screens.

While a few may scoff, I never thought I could love again after Lost. Even as I was watching Breaking Bad in between seasons of Lost nothing on television held up next to it. But I realize now that I was wrong. Lost is still my favourite show – it was my own lifelong fandom show: my Star Trek; my X-Files – but Breaking Bad is something else. Some shows have stellar acting and a cinematic style. Some shows have intricate storytelling and a damn fine soundtrack. Some shows have complex characters and heartbreak. Breaking Bad has all of the above but also what I think defines the series: novelisation.

A television show can have all of the mentioned qualities and still not be the greatest series of all time; it’s how those qualities are presented which decide how far a show can and will go. Most television shows read like a graphic novel: each episode we jump from panel to panel, moving from piece of exposition to piece of exposition, to character development, to page of action to panel of plot closure and then on to next week’s issue. Breaking Bad, however, comes in the form of a book, carefully laying down every word-laden page we want and need to fully appreciate the series’ narrative and character choices and emotions. We’re there with Walt or Jesse or Skyler or Hank at all times, in between those gaps that separate the panels in other shows.

The series’ far-reaching rise and fall of a great man turned wrong reads like an adaptation of a magnum opus novel due to its ability to hang in mercilessly through the seemingly mundane (yay, breakfast!) as well as the slow or exciting growth of plot and character so that the full scope of what makes these people we’re watching tick can be observed, contemplated and debated on because every moment matters. The series, spoken so intricately, never leaves a single grain of Ricin in the vial either. Remember in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Harry and Co are cleaning and come across a grubby throwaway locket that then turns out to be a horcrux of Voldemort two books later in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?! That’s Breaking Bad at every turn.

There are other shows that are stylistically cinematic, tortuously plotted and beautifully acted but they are simply tepid off-brand generic cola compared to series creator, Vince Gilligan’s classic Coke.

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“I have lived under the threat of death for a year now. And because of that, I’ve made choices. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices. No one else. And those consequences… they’re coming.”

50 Shades of Gray Matter

To complement and enhance the series’ production values and story-telling structure are the people we watch the show for: Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, as well as the series’ wealth of other morally ambiguous characters.

Moral ambiguity is something each and every one of us have dealt with at one time or another. Most of our ‘tough’ choices come in the form of moments like whether it would really be so bad if you pulled a sickie, knowing you could well selfishly ruin another person’s day or if you are a fundamentally bad person for stealing some of your housemate’s bread and then lying to them, perhaps even blaming another housemate (sorry, Dave). I don’t think I’m a monster or opie-eyed piece of sh*t if I nab a bit of milk from my colleague. I was doing what was necessary to protect my cup of tea from tasting terrible. Breaking Bad‘s moral compass is just relatability taken to the extreme. We can’t help but feel for and be right behind Mr Walter Hartwell White through thick and thin because he is (or was) a normal guy simply trying to do right for his family and to leave behind a legacy when he’s gone from this world instead of just a withered corpse that couldn’t even provide for its family, and whose to say that put in the same position we wouldn’t make the same choices as Mr White?

Up until Walt shoots Mike in season 5 you could argue that every misdeed Walt committed was for the protection of his family or in complete self-defence and therefore not an act of breaking bad. If you wanted to be that guy you could even argue that Walt cooking methamphetamine is not in itself inherently bad. Of course though, what Walt does with the product thereafter no matter his circumstances is, which brings us back into the gray.

One of the most interesting conversations to have about Breaking Bad is the speculation of just when Walt crossed the Rubicon and broke bad for good. Some name the first time he cooked meth; some when he watched Jane die; some call the aforementioned shooting of that stand-up guy, Mike Ehrmantrut. I personally believe that Walt broke bad long before he even purchased that trademark pork pie hat of his. His narcissistic behaviour was always present and all signs pointed to the fact that he was never able to settle (his pre-series kerfuffle with Gray Matter, his deriding of 308 Negra Arroyo lane on his first viewing of the property and his and Gretchen’s debate over the chemistry percentages of what physically makes a man), all of which sets him on his inexorable path to embodying his inner Heisenberg.

Karma and vengeance are a huge force to be reckoned with in Breaking Bad and moral ambiguity is apparent in every instance of those notions. Almost no character acts out of pure evil.* From Gus avenging the death of his partner and letting his pride cloud his judgement, to Skyler dipping her toes into Walt’s blood money or Hank’s inability to give up on his hunt for Heisenberg to the point of illegality; in the world of Breaking Bad where there is a gray area of morality there is an equal reaction of destructive karma waiting right around the side of an RV.

*- ‘The Nazis’ are pure evil, but rather than characters you could argue that they are simply a manifestation of all the worst parts of what Walt has become. They are a chaotic reaction of narrative karma rather than a group of ‘people’.

What makes the moral ambiguity of Breaking Bad so engrossing is not just that it pushes the boundaries of what viewers deem still-forgivable behaviour but the fact that every major character, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, has gone through deep internal struggle which makes the series not just about goodies and baddies but people and the complex difficulties each and every one of them have come into. Hence, I like to think that the point of no return does not exist in Breaking Bad, as who we ultimately see on the screen is who the series’ characters have always been and will be. It’s not nature vs. nurture; it’s how nature is nurtured. Walter White was always Heisenberg he just needed the right catalyst to awaken the demon within.

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“You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change: Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It is fascinating, really.”

The Study Of Change

One of the most worrying features of a television show is that, intermittently, it needs to change. This is – fittingly, given our anti-hero’s lifelong vocation – what Breaking Bad excelled at most (see above nature/nurture). Vince Gilligan and his creative team, and indeed the show’s enormously talented cast, revelled in the process of moulding the new together with the old, taking what was and defiantly shaping what was meant to be.

Incidentally, on a production level as much as a character level I feel that the crux of Breaking Bad’s developmental success was that the writers had no idea what they were doing, with much of the show’s most engrossing drama focusing on how its characters adapt to the almost-random chaos thrown at them.

Case in point: Jesse was supposed to die in episode nine of season one. Tuco was supposed to live until the end of season two, Hector “Tio” Salamanca was supposed to be season three’s big bad, Gus Fring was originally going to only be in a few episodes, meaning season four would have been considerably different, and (here’s a big one – the one you couldn’t love them more for admitting) when the creative team had Walt purchase that hefty M60 at the start of season five, they had no idea how the series would end.

Every time the writers added to their somehow-commissioned experiment the eventual outcome, good or bad, would be a product of its own volatile evolution. Vince Gilligan has stated numerously throughout the series that in the writer’s room they investigated the what-ifs of what they wanted to happen but always ultimately went with their gut feeling as to what they saw unfolding naturally in front of them, as if the show’s characters were real and uncontainable. This can be confirmed further by referring to both the Heisenberg Principle (Werner Heisenberg’s hypothesis that it is impossible to determine the velocity of an electron (character) or any other particle (plot device) with a degree of accuracy or certainty) and Walt’s reflective speech during one of the series’ highlight episodes, ‘Fly’: “The universe is random. It’s not inevitable, it’s simple chaos. It’s subatomic particles in endless, aimless collision.” This is, in a sentence, Breaking Bad.

No matter how much Vince Gilligan or any of the creative team wanted, Breaking Bad was not an entity that could be controlled, but merely coped with. Because of this the show feels (pardon the pun) pure. The series never dropped a plot, it never retconned or apologised for any missteps. It carried on forward, through the anarchy and bad decisions; slowly, tensely and surely, becoming what it was always going to be, much like Walter’s transformation into the notorious Heisenberg.

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[Walter White and Gretchen Thomas in flashback are calculating all of the known elements that make up the structure of the human body]

Walt: “We are 0.111958% shy.”

Gretchen: “Supposedly that’s everything.”

Walt: “It just seems like something’s missing doesn’t it? There’s got to be more to a human being than that.”

Gretchen: “What about the soul?”

Walt: “The soul? There’s nothing but chemistry here.”

A Trip To Belize

Death has been omnipresent since the start of Breaking Bad. Death, in the form of cancer, was the catalyst for Walt’s first step into his perpetual downfall. In the form of violent threat it was what drove him deeper and deeper into a semi-glamorised methamphetamine trade until it was such that death was being issued by his own hand and the show no longer held even a glimmer of hope for a single character. Consequently, by the series’ end death was knocking on everyone’s door and it was time for the show and its audience to assess their beliefs.

Faith is a tough subject to consider when discussing the Breaking Bad universe. On one hand all signs point towards that there is nothing in the universe but chemistry. On the other we have the latter half of Walt’s ‘Fly’ speech in response to coincidentally having a drink with Jane’s father the night she dies: “It’s subatomic particles in endless, aimless collision. That’s what science teaches us, but what does this say? What is it telling us that the very night that this man’s daughter dies, it’s me who is having a drink with him? I mean, how could that be random?”

Does this mean that the show’s karmic cataclysms are acts of god, not science? If Walter was in fact who he always became does this mean that destiny is present in Breaking Bad or is it simply just a case of you can’t perform the same experiment twice and expect a different outcome? It’s the variables that change in the Breaking Bad universe, not the constants. These questions are left, and will be eternally, for self-interpretation. Walter White claims that there is no soul but if there isn’t what was Breaking Bad all about? Just science? To take an agnostic’s point of view I like to think that both forces of science and belief are in play with Breaking Bad and complement each other as much as they do contradict.

In a way – and continuing the pattern of notions in the series reflecting real-life and vice versa – Breaking Bad singing its Baby Blues also signals a pseudo demise of Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston’s present careers. Don’t get ahead of me; I’m not saying these extraordinary actors have nowhere to go. Aaron Paul himself has admitted that he knows that he’s probably reached the peak of his foreseeable future. It’s a tortuous reality that the legacy of something so large should potentially overshadow what else we may think of what they have to offer – much like those legacies formulated in the show.

With that said death is not always a bad thing. With a perfect final series of episodes that complement the issues and themes that the show first laid out, Breaking Bad also achieved that rare thing of coming full circle without missing anything important or feeling forced or even overdue. In fact, the show went out literally at the top of its game: every episode in season 5.2 steadily increased in viewership and critical lauding.

Whilst not always a show we can all contextually relate to, Breaking Bad has proven itself to be timeless by delivering outstanding drama without the ‘melo’, deeply affecting emotion without the sentimentality and – to largest effect – devastating, sickening chaos and destruction without ever losing sight of its humanity. It’s over. Gilligan won, and I can’t imagine a world without Coca-Cola.

Beautiful Lies – Audrey Tautou Retrospective #5

Beautiful Lies

Beautiful Lies was the first Audrey Tautou film I saw in a cinema. Up until then I had only watched a variety of her features in my university’s lecture theatre and the series of bedrooms I have inhabited since that time. I can’t say whether or not the cinema enhanced my overall experience/opinion of this film or not as when I re-watched it for the purpose of this review I realized that the intimacy of the characters and plot (much like most of Tautou’s body of work) is just as striking in the comfort of my armchair as it is watching it on the big screen.

Whilst you would be correct in the assumption that Audrey Tautou plays the girl in and out of love in this dram-rom-com, she once again makes a departure from the stereotypical female lead, playing successful hairstylist/businesswoman, Émilie, a woman who is quite frankly unlikable for a good chunk of the film (in actions only; gosh, I’d never not like Audrey Tautou). Émilie is the kind of shirty woman who can bring her staff and customers to sobs in a heartbeat. She thinks she knows best and has no qualms about practicing this, which brings about many of the film’s more comedic and dramatic moments.

Jean (Sami Bouajila) is the handyman putting the final touches on Émilie’s salon. After developing a strong crush on Émilie he writes her an anonymous love letter which she, directly in front of him, shrugs off, crumples and deposits in the bin. Elsewhere, Émilie’s mother (Nathalie Baye) is falling ever deeper into a crazy depression after her husband left her for a young woman. The inspired romance of Jean’s letter strikes Émilie and she forwards it to her mother, subsequently struggling to keep up the ruse of an anonymous romance with inferior soliloquies. Numerous he-loves-her, she-loves-anonymous, he’s-with-her-but-now-she-loves-him twists and turns later and we’ve got a film packed with enough awkward romance and drama to remake Friends, but funnier, and French.

Writer/director, Pierre Salvadori and co-writer, Benoît Graffin once again (amongst others, they collaborated on Priceless, their first Tautou film) expertly craft a series of misunderstandings, romantic smackdowns and childish bickering without ever crossing the line into the melodramatic, making our investment into each and every romantic thread worth the meandering it takes to get to the pay-off. With colourful cinematography that is as lively as its clever script there is rarely a moment of down-time, and the human performances put in from all are exceptional. Like many French dramatic romantic comedies, this is not just sniffles and ice cream; there is so much more character and depth to every aspect of the world these people live in. Without intentionally being hyperbolic, where funny, dramatic romance is involved, it really doesn’t get much better than Beautiful Lies.