Blu Tuesday: Steve Jobs, Black Mass and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Steve Jobs”

WHAT: An unconventional biopic that follows Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) backstage during three product launches – the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT “black box” in 1988, and the Apple iMac in 1998 – that helped shape his legacy.

WHY: For a movie about one of the most innovative people of the past century, it’s fitting that “Steve Jobs” is as risky and unique as the man himself. Aaron Sorkin was the perfect screenwriter to tackle this material, creating a sharp, funny and often unflattering look at Jobs that moves like a bullet train, despite the dense nature of its three-act structure. Director Danny Boyle stays out of the way for the most part, allowing Sorkin’s script to sing with few distractions, but he brings an electric immediacy to the story that’s reminiscent of live theater. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the title character, blurring the line between fiction and reality with his nuanced portrayal, while the rest of the cast shines in supporting roles. Though “Steve Jobs” will rub some people the wrong way with its prickly depiction of the Apple visionary, it’s an endlessly fascinating film that’s more respectful of its subject than it initially appears.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Danny Boyle, writer Aaron Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham, as well as a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Black Mass”

WHAT: When small-time criminal Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) begins to make a name for himself in South Boston, he strikes a deal with childhood friend/FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) to help get rid of the local mob. But as John struggles to cover up Whitey’s growing criminal empire, he unknowingly places himself in the FBI’s crosshairs.

WHY: Much like director Scott Cooper’s first two films, “Black Mass” is a pretty slow burn, and although that comes with the territory of the crime genre, the movie doesn’t have anything new to say (or a new way to say it) that hasn’t been done in countless other gangster flicks. The true-life story is certainly compelling, but it never attains the greatness to match its ambition, despite Johnny Depp’s effectively chilling turn as the notorious Whitey Bulger. It’s not an overly showy piece of acting, servicing the story instead of his own self-indulgence for once. Unfortunately, the rest of Cooper’s top-notch cast (save for Joel Edgerton) is wasted in throwaway roles, which is not unlike the film itself, because for every outstanding setpiece, there are several scenes of tedious filler that grind the movie to a halt. Still, while it doesn’t do enough to earn a spot among the classics, “Black Mass” is a satisfying crime thriller that’s worth watching if only for Depp’s impressive return to form.

EXTRAS: In addition to a documentary about Whitey Bulger’s eventual capture, there’s a making-of featurette and a behind-the-scenes look at Johnny Depp’s transformation.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

Read the rest of this entry »

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

2015 Year-End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

header_jason

It seems like every December, someone laments how mediocre of a year it’s been for cinema, and while it’s hard to argue that point, the movies that were good were really freaking good. Though 2015 was arguably the year of the sequel, with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Creed” and others performing well both critically and commercially, it was also the year of the book adaptation, several of which are featured on this list. But no one or nothing had a better year than Irish-born actor Domhnall Gleeson, who appeared in four movies in 2015, with three of them landing a spot in my Top 10. (For the record, the fourth fell just outside the bubble in my Honorable Mentions). It’s hard to say what that means, if anything, other than Domhnall Gleeson has really good taste in films.

Best Movies of 2015

1. “THE MARTIAN

Although it’s the third film in as many years about astronauts in distress, “The Martian” is a smart, captivating and humorous adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel that covers very different narrative and emotional territory than “Gravity” and “Interstellar.” For starters, it’s a lot more uplifting than most sci-fi fare, eschewing the usual doom-mongering for a story about the power of optimism and perseverance that also doubles as one heckuva recruitment video for NASA. (Who knew science and math could be this much fun?) Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the Everyman astronaut forced to “science the shit” out of his seemingly impossible predicament, while the supporting cast – including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejifor and Jessica Chastain – is absolutely stacked with talent. This is hands down Ridley Scott’s best movie since “Gladiator,” and it owes a lot to Drew Goddard’s screenplay, which takes a lighthearted approach to the high-stakes drama in order to produce one of the most purely entertaining crowd-pleasers in years.

martian

2. “SICARIO

“Sicario” isn’t the first movie to tackle the illegal drug trade along the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s easily one of the best, a relentlessly suspenseful crime thriller that offers a merciless look behind the curtain of the real War on Drugs. The film rarely takes its foot off the gas, continuing director Denis Villeneuve’s excellent form with a masterclass in building tension that will tie your stomach in knots. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is as stunning as ever, somehow finding the beauty in an ugly situation, but it’s the performances from the three leads that really elevate the material. Benicio Del Toro is especially good, delivering his best work in over a decade as the silent but deadly consultant – a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing who eventually bares his teeth and claws in the explosive final act. Though a few missteps prevent “Sicario” from true greatness, it’s an outstanding, white-knuckle thriller that will leave you mentally and physically exhausted in the best possible way.

sicario

Read the rest of this entry »

Pages: 1 2  

Movie Review: “Steve Jobs”

Starring
Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katerine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Ortiz
Director
Danny Boyle

Most biopics go to great lengths to humanize their subjects, to show that even the great ones are flawed in some way. “Steve Jobs” sets its subject on fire, and then pokes the body with a stick for 122 minutes. They make it clear from word one that Jobs was a sociopath, blinded by ambition and seemingly incapable of empathy or love. He was an insufferable boss and an even worse father, yet the son of a bitch changed the world.

And the thing is, those are all okay elements to include in the film of someone’s life. More often than not, though, those pieces aren’t the whole story. Here, they are, and it’s framed within a narrative that seems designed to make the audience even more uncomfortable. “Steve Jobs” is well written and well-acted, but it is not an easy movie to like, let alone love. It challenges the audience, and that is an admirable thing, as long as they’re willing to suffer the consequence that people may ultimately decide that they don’t like the movie because the supposed protagonist is an unrepentant jerk.

The film covers three product launches, peppered with a few informative, non-linear flashbacks, over the course of 14 years. The first one takes place in 1984, where Jobs is about to launch the Macintosh. Ridley Scott’s “1984” ad during the Super Bowl had everyone talking, and now it is up to Jobs to deliver. The only problem is, the Mac isn’t ready, and yet he still tells the press that he anticipates record-shattering sales. Before he makes his presentation, though, he has to deal with Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), mother of Jobs’ daughter Lisa, though he refuses to acknowledge Lisa as his daughter. Next up is Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the man with whom he invented the first Apple computer in a garage, and the two are still quibbling over what turned out to be game-changing innovations that Jobs rejected out of hand.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Microsoft dropping CES – part of Steve Jobs’ legacy?

Steve Ballmer.

Earlier this morning, Microsoft made waves by announcing that it would be pulling out of the Consumer Electronics Show. The announcement was made by Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s head of communications, on the company blog. CEA, the organization that runs CES, claims the opposite, that they chose to give Microsoft the boot. In any case, this is a pretty serious blow to the trade show, and it points to the growing sentiment that trade shows have lost their relevance. As I’m sure some of you remember, Apple did essentially the same thing when it backed out of MacWorld in 2008.

Really, it doesn’t much matter who dropped whom; the end result is the same. CES just took a huge hit, and it’s a hit the CEA should have seen coming. For my part, I’m willing to bet Microsoft backed out. As the company stated, their product releases haven’t lined up with CES keynotes, which is certainly true. There was this other company that held its own keynotes for major product releases, where it would show off finalized versions of products that were ready to ship the same day. You know, that company with the second largest market cap in the world. I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

Also, as the CEA, why kick Microsoft off the keynote? Who will take their place? Remember, this is the CES. This isn’t a developer’s conference. There won’t be major web properties making keynotes for CES. So who fills Microsoft’s space? More importantly, who forks over the cash to do so knowing the CEA may give them the boot next year? No one. That’s who.

If anything, Microsoft is trying to take control of its hype cycle, in exactly the same way Steve Jobs took control of Apple’s. There is one key difference – the products. Microsoft hasn’t gotten into the hardware game, which makes a product keynote much duller than the Apple counterpart. So much of Apple’s product launch success is tied into showing off a complete product. Microsoft can’t do that, at least not without the help of manufacturers, and manufacturer issues remain a huge source of complaint against Microsoft products. Still, I think moving to Microsoft-sponsored events gives the company a chance to more closely connect with its own fanbase, which Microsoft could really use.

The idea that the CEA would kick Microsoft just makes no sense. Trade shows have been losing traction for years. The last thing the CES needs is a disappearing act from one of the biggest draws for the show.

  

Holiday Gift Ideas – Books

We covered a wide range of categories in our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide, from Gadgets to Movie DVDs. Here we offer up some book ideas as well.

Steve Jobs
By Walter Isaacson

This isn’t just a great biography. Isaacson is a very talented writer, historian and storyteller who’s written about great men such as Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein. Jobs is also a fascinating figure, but the difference here is that Steve Jobs just passed away this year, and we’re able to read about a man whose accomplishments and impact on society are so fresh in our minds. Practically everyone who reads this book can relate to Jobs’ inventions and innovations, making the story that much more compelling.

This was made possible because Jobs gave Isaacson access during the final years of his life, and Jobs was willing to open up and let Isaacson see him for who he was, warts and all. We see a man who was both brilliant and petulant. He was extremely passionate but often rude and insulting. We see how Jobs’ obsessive attention to detail and passion for products led to his stunning successes, as well as some of his more spectacular failures.

One of the more fascinating story lines involves his rivalry with Bill Gates. Jobs was obsessed with total control over his products and insisted on closed systems so he could control the user experience. Job relied on his intuition and his maniacal attraction to beauty and simplicity. Gates believed in open systems and was eager to license his software to a wide variety of partners, even if that meant sacrificing the user experience and quality. Gates was the clear winner early as PCs dominated Macs and Apple almost went bankrupt, but Jobs had the last laugh as he pushed Apple to revolutionize consumer electronics with the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad.

The book is a great read, and it’s a great gift for anyone who likes biographies or is interested in technology or business.

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness
By Neil Strauss

On the back of this book, which is a compilation of interviews and other wild stories from Neil Strauss’s career as a rock journalist, Strauss states, “You can tell a lot about somebody in a minute. If you pick the right minute. Here are 228 of them.” Strauss is a master storyteller, and we got our first introduction to his work years ago when he wrote “The Game,” which in our opinion is the best book you’ll on pick-up artists and dating advice for men. Strauss uses some of the same skills he learned as a pick-up artist to get celebrities to talk to him. His use of a mind-reading illusion to get Britney Spears to open up to him is a classic. Strauss recounts all sorts of bizarre encounters, from shooting guns with Ludacris, being kidnapped by Courtney Love and being told off by Prince. As a writer for Rolling Stone he had access to everybody. The book is very entertaining and makes for a great gift for fans of music and/or celebrities.

The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs
By Neal and Constance McCabe

Is baseball starting to get its groove back? The American Pastime has had a rough go recently, particularly with the steroids scandal that upended many of the great records that helped define the game. Baseball’s glory days now seem so long ago. Yet Major league Baseball has been getting some good news, as they avoided the labor troubles we’ve seen in football and basketball, and we’ve just come off one of the most dramatic World Series comebacks in baseball history.

This book compiles golden age baseball photographs taken by Charles M. Conlon taken between 1902 and 1942. The book features over 200 portraits, and the authors include well-written profiles of the players featured on each page, including quotes from the players themselves. Photos include baseball great such as Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Phil Rizzuto, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. Many of the photos have never been published, and this makes a great coffee table book. Baseball fans will love it.