The best way I can think of to sum up Jobs, the hastily-prepared not-quite adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s hastily-published biography of the Apple co-founder, is that its subject would have hated it. After all, Steve had taste and – famously – exercised it. He also didn’t release products until they were ready whereas Joshua Michael Stern’s film feels like the winner of a race to be first rather than best.
Ashton Kutcher impersonates Mr. Jobs effectively enough, to the extent of mimicking the man’s strange lope, but never gets further under his skin than a blog post or tabloid headline might. I suspect that is not a comment on Mr. Kutcher’s talent but on the episodic script by first-timer Matt Whiteley. Josh Gad’s Woz provides comic relief only and the amount of fake facial hair on offer suggests the film might better have been titled iBeard.
Operating on a much deeper level is Daniel Borgman’s The Weight of Elephants, a film that prioritises what goes on under the surface almost to the complete exclusion of plot. Gorgeous Demos Murphy plays 10-year-old Adrian, living with his depressed Uncle Rory (great Matthew Sunderland) and Gran (Catherine Wilkin) in suburban Invercargill. The strange disappearance of three local children has an upsetting effect on a boy who is struggling to fit in to the world around him anyway.
Last time we saw Tom Cruise he was known as Jack Reacher. Now, in Oblivion, his name is Jack Harper. What range! What diversity! You’d hardly recognise him. Harper is a maintenance guy, repairing the drones that protect giant machines that suck Earth’s oceans up to an enormous space station orbiting above us, a space station that is going to take the few remaining survivors of our pyrrhic victory over invading aliens on a final journey away from a devastated planet to a new life on Titan.
Assisting Mr. Cruise with his mechanical defence duties is Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), life and work partner, keeping him in contact with the supervisors floating above them and keeping an eye on the straggling remnants of the aliens who tried to conquer us. Traditional gender roles are very much still intact in the future – even though the Moon isn’t – and Ms. Riseborough’s character seems content to never leave the spotless modern kitchen while Cruise gets his hands dirty on the surface. Neither of them seem too bothered by the fact that they had their memories wiped six years previously, although he has been having some strange dreams recently.
Kiwi crowd-pleasers don’t come much more crowd-pleasing than Tearepa Kahi’s Mt. Zion, featuring TV talent quester Stan Walker in a star-making performance as a working class kid with a dream. Slogging his unwilling guts out picking potatoes in the market gardens of 1979 Pukekohe, nervously making the first steps in a music career that seems impossible and fantasising about meeting the great Bob Marley, Walker’s Turei is out of step with his hard working father (Temuera Morrison) and the back-breaking work.
When a local promoter announces a competition to be the support act for the reggae legend’s forthcoming concert at Western Springs, Turei tests the boundaries of family and friendship to get a shot at the big time. The bones of the story are familiar, of course, but there’s meat on the bones too – a slice of New Zealand social history with economic changes making life harder for a people who don’t own the land that they work. Production design (by Savage) and authentic-looking 16mm photography all help give Mt. Zion a look of its own and the music – though not normally to my taste – is agreeable enough.
There are two mainstream comic book publishing houses, DC and Marvel, and choosing between them as a kid was a bit like choosing between The Beatles and the Stones. They had different styles and sensibilities (and philosophies) and after a little bit of experimentation you could find a fit with one or the other.
DC had Superman and Batman – big, bold and (dare I say it) one-dimensional characters with limited or opaque inner lives. When Stan Lee created Spider-Man, a teenage photographer with powers he neither asked for nor appreciated, he created a soap opera – a soap opera with aspirations to high art. As you might be able to tell, I was a Marvel kid.
Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first: watching The Farrelly Brothers’ ugly remake of Neil Simon’s The Heartbreak Kid was a trial beyond all human endurance. After about 20 minutes I was begging for release (which came shortly afterwards as blissful unconsciousness overtook me). Sadly, no studio executive will ever get fired for green-lighting a racy Ben Stiller romantic comedy so no matter how bad this one is it won’t be the last one we are forced to endure.
Back in 1984, Russell Mulcahy made Razorback, the tale of a giant mutant pig terrorising a small outback town, and his next film is going to be about a man turned into a koala by an ancient aboriginal curse, both of which make Resident Evil 3: Extinction look like Anna Karenina. You don’t need to have seen the previous two ResidentEvil films or played the video game (I hadn’t) as the plot is pretty simple: zombies = bad; supermodels = good; genetic engineering = very bad (unless you are genetically engineering supermodels which = very good). Stoic action-hero Milla Jovovich is photographed using the Chanel filter whenever she isn’t slicing up the un-dead and the film is entertaining when there’s action and tedious when there isn’t.
In Fracture, hotshot young actor Ryan Gosling plays a hotshot young Deputy DA, about to make the leap to a big-time corporate gig but first he has to convict Anthony Hopkins who has just shot his wife in the head. Now, IANAL but Fracture seems pretty shonky from a procedural and legal point of view. Can the LA County court system really send an attempted murderer to trial less than a fortnight after the offence? I doubt it, but that condensed time-frame is vital for Goslings’ character motivation and therefore the rest of the plot, so best to turn a blind-eye to the detail and focus on two great screen actors enjoying themselves.
Film of the week by some distance is Away From Her by the sublimely gifted Sarah Polley. In snowy Ontario Julie Christie is Fiona, a woman struggling with the onset of Alzheimers Disease. Husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) seems to be struggling even more, however, and when she decides to go in to residential care he feels that, perhaps, he is being punished by her for past transgressions.
Christie is sensational but the revelation for me is Pinsent, a living legend in Canada but rarely seen elsewhere. His is an extraordinary performance, fully investing his character with all of the painful mash of love, loss and guilt that Polley’s eloquently spare script requires. His raw and confused emotions are not just etched in his craggy face but into his ever-moistening eyes.
Glenn Standring’s Perfect Creature is a respectable genre effort, although devoid of much originality. In a steampunk-flavoured alternative reality New Zealand, genetically engineered vampires known as Brothers control society via religion. When one of their order goes berko and starts eating citizens, the supposedly delicate balance between the species/races/whatever is threatened. Deputy Brother Silus (Dougray Scott) teams up with the cheekbones of Detective Lilly (Saffron Burrows) to bring the fiend to justice.
One of the most startling career re-inventions of recent times must belong to screenwriter Steven Knight who until 2002 was a TV hack best known for being Jasper Carrott’s chief gag-man and creator of Who Wants To be a Millionaire? The script for the excellent Dirty Pretty Things launched his feature career and he now delves even deeper in to the seedy underbelly of gangland London with Eastern Promises, starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. Watts plays a London hospital midwife and (helpfully) daughter of a Russian. A young girl dies in childbirth on her watch but the diary she was carrying provides a clue to her identity and leads Watts to the Russian mafia kingpin (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his nutjob son (Vincent Cassell) and the son’s driver (Viggo). Director Cronenberg steers us through the murk effectively enough and there’s one thrilling set-piece in a turkish bath which confirms his talent for cinematic violence (if it was ever in doubt). Final irony: the three Russians are played by a German, a Frenchman and a Dane.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 31 October, 2007.
Notes on screening conditions: Away From Her was screened in Penthouse One and the shutter timing is still out and getting worse. There are also signs of damage to the screen (from something behind it?) on the right-hand side. It was also the most uncomfortable seat I have sat in this year. This is all a bit of a shame as Penthouse Three (the new one) is perfectly fine but it looks like standards aren’t being maintained everywhere.