“The Disaster Artist” Review

Tommy Wiseau is a fascinating director. The Disaster Artist begins with interviews of real celebrities talking about him and his film The Room as if he was a genius that had created a masterpiece. This includes actors such as Adam Scott, wishing he could go back in time to be on that set, and directors J. J. Abrams and Kevin Smith who applaud Wiseau. Were they joking or were they serious? Or both? For the knowing crowd at the screening who had all seen The Room, myself included, we started laughing quite early at these statements. This is a film which presents an intoxication of bad filmmaking that is so potent it’s easy to get lost in the ridiculous haze of the enigma that is Tommy.
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“Steve Jobs” Review

What more can be said about the life of Steve Jobs? There are numerous documentaries and books divulging all his technological achievements and human failures. There are dramatizations that range from respectful (The Pirates of Silicon Valley) to bland (Jobs). So what is there left to explore in a new docudrama with an all-star cast? Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin find just the right angle to portray the creative genius of Apple: as a flawed human being reeling behind the curtain before facing the public.

For this picture, we focus on Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) during three crucial events of his career: the 1984 launch of the Macintosh computer, the 1988 launch of his NeXT computer and the 1996 unveiling of the iMac. The movie doesn’t focus so much on the event itself as it does on Jobs’ behind the scenes. At the launch of the Macintosh, his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan and her daughter Lisa visit Jobs. As Steve and Chrissan argue over money and public perceptions, Lisa sits in front of the Macintosh computer. She plays around it with for a few minutes and Steve is floored when he witnesses her create a drawing in MacPaint. For a brief moment, he is taken out of his element as the calculated and arrogant creator. Her presence brings down the tension and breaks Steve down to more of a human with purpose than a shrill innovator.

For most of the picture, Lisa is present as a part of Steve’s life that reminds him of what he’s pushed away. She’s the only one whom Steve seems to have the most casual and interesting of conversations with. It becomes a tragic relationship in how Steve puts more effort into his career than spending time with his daughter. He is absent for much of her life growing up, but she continues to remind him of what he’s missing out on. It’s not until Lisa is old enough for college does Steve finally realized how important a daughter can be in your life.

When not conversing with his daughter, Steve is doing battle with the various co-workers that grow to detest the man over time. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) quickly becomes bitter with Steve refusing to acknowledge the Apple II team on the grounds that such development is in the past. CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) booms with frustration about Jobs’ refusal to work with the Apple board of directors, which led to Jobs being forced out of the company. The only one who seems to both know the man on a deeper level and still despise him is marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) who attempts to steer him in the right direction amid all the chaos. All of these people become byproducts of Jobs’ ego and it’s up to him to right the crucial mistakes of his career.

The all-star cast is in top form. Fassbender’s portrayal of Jobs doesn’t quite hit the visual level of a dead ringer, but his performance is powerful enough to match the core personality of the technological icon. There’s grace, arrogance and fear all mixed into a character that would probably be feeling all these before a big event. Kate Winslet almost deserves more credit for her portrayal of Joanna Hoffman, matching her both her dated style and insistent buzzing around Steve. The rest of the cast all feel perfectly utilized as well considering most get to share personal scenes between them in Fassbender with exceptional dialogue.

Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is perhaps the most focused picture on the man and his legacy. It skips through most of the history we already know and delivers on the juicier moments of Jobs’ life. Seeing what literally happens behind the scenes is far more exciting than witnessing the actual press conferences built around the premise. Most technological history buffs are aware of the failures of the NeXT and the Newton as well as the popularity of the iMac. The script briskly glazes over these touchstones for Apple to keep a strict eye more on character than innovation. Even the origin moments of Steve’s past with Wozniak and the bitter internal feuds of Apple are kept to minimum flashbacks. We get to follow along with Steve in his fast-paced race towards the stage, realizing that there’s much more on his mind than the conception of the iPhone.

“The Interview” (2014) Review

After all the controversy over the Sony hacks and North Korea threatening America if they released The Interview into theaters, is this comedy any good? While it’s certainly nowhere near the level of controversial buzz it generated, yes, it was a funny picture. It will not be fondly remembered as the satire that stabbed violently at the ordeal of North Korea with telling wit, but did manage to be humorous for what it wanted to be. Given Seth Rogen’s previous comedic projects (This is the End), it wasn’t exactly aiming for the furthest heights of satire.

That being said, there is some cleverness given to its semi-meta premise. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a talk show host that thrives on the most scandal-worthy conversations with celebrities. Eminem comes on the program to reveal that he’s homosexual and his lyrics were acting as clues for these years. But all these interviews to little satiate his producer/friend Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) and his thirst to produce better television. Seeking to be more professional, the two end up landing the most exclusive of interviews with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un (Randall Park) in his native country. Of course, acquiring such exclusivity attracts the CIA that want Dave and Aaron to act as secret agents and take out the dictator.

The humor for this let’s-kill-a-dictator plot is on par with Rogen’s line of comedy. There are no shortage of weed and penis jokes in stock to please the most bro-worthy of college boys. Foreign objects are placed inside rears and limbs are severed in the name of shock. But when the script can pull itself away from a-typical low-brow, there are a few nuggets of insightful satire on North Korea. The Korean children bred and conditioned for entertainment play guitars for their guests with disgustingly perfected smiles. The grocery store Kim stages for his visitors is a fake which makes for a great reveal once James Franco finds himself wronged. Throughout their stay, Franco believes all of Kim’s words while Rogen politely nods along being aware of all his tricks. It’s a predictable, but playful enough dynamic for the dolt and the straight man.

The comedy is somewhat grounded by an arc for Dave and Kim. The two find themselves developing a friendship in their manchild lifestyles of too much play and a want to be taken seriously. I was rather surprised at how much the movie held back in transforming Kim into a goof – thanks to both the script and Randall Park’s performance. He’s certainly silly the way he favors Katey Perry as his music-to-drive-tanks-to, but rarely over the top with emotions and secrets. If the real Kim Jong-un favors the presence of Dennis Rodman, being in possession of a Katey Perry song seems very plausible.

There’s a romance between Seth Rogen and a female NK soldier, but it’s mostly background dressing for Rogen to get in a few laughs as the nervous spy. As Franco is laid back and easy-going as he grows to love Park’s Kim, Rogen gets to do most of the spy work with his mishandling of secret weapons. He even wedges in a few fight scenes since I swear it must be a requirement in his contract that he does some slapstick.

Perhaps it’s just all the controversy surrounding the movie’s release, but it felt as though the satire should have gone a bit further. Seth Rogen and his co-director Evan Goldberg spent a large amount of time doing research on this subject from as far back as when Kim Jong-ill was still alive. It’s a little disappointing that after all that work and a desire to make something a little more relevant of the times, the end result is one that fills in most of its blanks with toilet humor. Rather than have more fun with focusing on the culture of North Korea, Franco and Rogen spend most of their time bickering in a guest room about (what else?) weed and penises. Maybe they secretly knew they were treading in hot territory and wanted to play it a tad safe.

While The Interview doesn’t redefine Rogen and Franco’s comedy careers, it’s good for a few laughs both insightful and dumb. Most of its base humor is deserving of a chuckle and the few digs at North Korea are well-thought. For not having as much bite, there is enough satirical bark at media and dictators to offer more than I expected. To think that a nuclear war could’ve broken out over such a comedy is more laughable for how there was such a big stir over such a low-brow farce. There’s also of bit of reflection in the character considering North Korea has made a multitude of propaganda films, but one suggestive piece of satire on our end causes outrage. Art reflects life – not that I’d considered The Interview a piece of art. It does rhyme with fart though.