Tag Archives: Aaron Sorkin

Steve Jobs

stevejobs

“If a fire causes a stampede to the unmarked exits, it’ll have been well worth it for those who survive.”

How do you tell the story of one of the most famous tech minds in living memory without making it a complete bore? This was pretty much the question that pushed me to watch Steve Jobs. I mean, he was an interesting guy, with an interesting story, if you’re into that kind of thing; but to spend two hours watching a film about the man that made Apple the brand so many of us rely on today doesn’t sound like an interesting prospect to me.

As it turns out, there are a few ways that you make the film interesting. First and most importantly, you give Aaron Sorkin a copy of Jobs’ biography and let one of the greatest screenwriters working today have a go at bringing one of the greatest salesmen to ever live to the big screen. Secondly, and this one both surprised and impressed me, make the conscious decision to not make a biopic and instead focus on making a drama that just happens to be about the Apple co-founder. Finally, do something original, something a little different to make people stop and take notice and think “OK, that could be… worth a look”, and I admit I fell for this one hook, line and sinker as the film takes the thing we all knew Jobs from, his marketing presentations, and makes them the focus of our time with the man.

Made into three very distinct acts, Steve Jobs is set in the moments before three of these presentations. While not necessarily the most famous of his endeavours, we spend time with Jobs before the announcements of some of Apple’s most important, and the tech genius’ most significant, product launches. Beginning in 1984 with the introduction of the first Macintosh computer, the machine that was to usher in a new era for the company and refresh the look of the already dated Apple 2. We meet Michael Fassbender’s titular Jobs as he is fighting to make his demonstration model do what he promised it would do mere minutes before he is due to show it off. The pressure mounts as Steve is forced to deal with confrontations with his friend and company co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his boss John Sculley (Sorkin veteran Jeff Daniels) and former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterstone).

The confrontations are still going strong into 1988’s NeXT education focussed computer announcement and continue on for more than a decade to the groundbreaking iMac announcement in 1998 as the visionary’s personal and private lives both reach critical mass at the end of the 90’s. Between the daughter he refuses to acknowledge as his own to the friend he refuses to cut loose, Steve’s personal life can’t help but get in the way and force his focus elsewhere whilst he’s trying to prepare for these life changing events. Knowing an appearance from management can only spell bad things, the arrival of Sculley to play the part of Jobs’ boss can only make matters worse. With each presentation the personal stakes are increased and the business pressure is ramped up for the salesman who can’t seem to get five minutes to catch his breath and take stock of what’s going on around him.

The thing about Steve Jobs: The Movie is that even after several attempts, I can’t write a synopsis that sounds interesting. It’s next to impossible to make a film about a guy who sold computers sound like it’s going to be worth your time. But, as it would turn out, it’s very, very good. It’s a great tag-team of spectacular direction from Danny Boyle – those that know me know how much it hurts me to say that – and first rate writing from Aaron Sorkin.

Honestly, I think the boldest move that Trainspotting director Boyle made was to cast a film full of real life people, most of them still alive, with a cast of actors that look nothing like the people they are portraying and then NOT put a few inches of makeup on to make them look like the famous people they are acting like. Boyle took top notch actors, for the most part, and instead of making the film about how much someone looks like someone else, he let the script do the talking and let the stories be told to the audience by the world class group of guys on the screen.

And “world class” is right. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the much loved tech salesman is pure genius, making the role his own as he angrily storms around in the back halls of his audience filled battlegrounds. So convincing is his depiction of the Apple innovator that by the time we get to see him in his now iconic jeans and black turtleneck, we no longer care that he looks nothing like his inspiration; he is Steve Jobs. His now legendary presentations are marred by his inability to cultivate a friendly personal relationship; opting instead for jumping straight to hostility and while that may not have been the ideal way to go about conversations with co-workers, managers and a young girl whom you refuse to admit is yours, it certainly makes for compelling viewing. At Jobs’ side through this entire endeavour is Joanna Hoffman, Steve’s confidant and closest friend and she is the only person that Steve trusts when everything else seem to be falling apart around him. With Kate Winslet in the role that is so important to the subject and the film, an awful lot rests on her shoulders with the fine line between very close friend and something more than that being danced along gracefully by a woman that deserves a supporting actress nod for her efforts here.

With Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen rounding off the cast, with both seamlessly falling into their respective roles, I honestly couldn’t think of a negative thing to say about the choices made in casting if I tried. Daniels’ portrayal of John Sculley, the CEO of Apple and the man responsible for most of the second half of the film, is flawless, seemingly having been in training for Sorkin’s script for three years with his work in the writer’s most recent TV escapade, Newsroom. Similarly, Rogen’s role of Apple co-founder and less famous version of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, was an interesting choice for both director and actor but it definitely paid off. Having taken a few ideas, and maybe some tips, from buddy Jonah Hill – a guy who cut his teeth with serious films recently with an Oscar nominated real life person role in Moneyball – Rogan’s “Woz” is a splendid one. A man whose bond with Jobs let him get away with so much, but having been scorned one too many times by the marketer that he simply loses his cool is played effortlessly and convincingly by a man most famous for making silly stoner type comedies.

Getting to take a look at how Steve Jobs was in the earlier years of Apple is a real treat and Danny Boyle has done a splendid job of giving us a glimpse of the man’s life through the eyes of those that simultaneously loved and despised him and while the performances are all amazing and each of those representing the real life people responsible for some of the greatest technological advances in recent memory are putting in an amazing amount of work.

The real standout of this show is, as I expected it to be, the writing. I’ve been a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s work for as long as I can remember and I don’t think he’s ever written a dud paragraph in his life. In his second movie where he gets to spend some time with the tech sector, Sorkin proves that he is still best-in-breed with his Steve Jobs script. And whilst the film may be a two hour lesson in Sorkin’s walk-and-talk theatre, it’s a damn good one, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Failed Critics Podcast: TV Special II

a-field-in-england-1024_LRGAfter the success of last year’s TV Special, we decided to recommission a second series. And not just because none of us wanted to watch The Internship. Oh no. So we review TV programmes we’ve been watching recently, including The Newsroom, Arrested Development Season 4, Sherlock, and Jericho, and in Triple Bill we pitch our movie remake ideas for shows from our youth.

We also review Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England, the civil war psychedelic horror film that debuted in cinemas, on DVD, and on free-to-air television on the same day.

Join us next week for our Monsters Double Header, with reviews of Pacific Rim and Monsters University.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1992

A continuing series in which the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Kate chose the nineties, because she actually used to watch films back then. This week she tackles 1992.

Strictly Ballroom

strictly ballroom‘You really are a gutless wonder!’

The first, and lesser known, of the three Baz Luhrmann films that make up the Red Curtain Triology, Strictly Ballroom could well be described as the Australian Dirty Dancing. Paul Mercurio is Scott Hastings, a ballroom dancer who’s all set to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship, until he starts trying to throw his own non-standard dance shapes. So far, so very Johnny Castle. Tara Morice is Baby/Fran, the timid beginner with the frizzy perm and enormous glasses, that of course she’s able to dance without, because being a champion dancer is all about conquering The Fear, and not about being able to see where you’re putting your feet at all.

The film showcases the cut-throat world of competitive professional ballroom dancing, using a supporting cast who resemble a Christmas Panto special of Neighbours. Unlike Luhrmann’s later efforts, it doesn’t star anyone particularly famous, but nonetheless went on to become one of the most successful Australian films of all time. Great song at the end, too.

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

the-hand-that-rocks-the-cradle‘When your husband makes love to you, it’s MY face he sees. When your baby’s hungry, it’s MY breast that feeds him. Look at you! When push comes to shove… you can’t even breathe!’

As will become clear upon reading my full Decade in Film choices, Early Nineties Thrillers is one of my favourite movie genres. At age 13, my main occupation was the giving and receiving of slumber parties. Such films were the perfect viewing at these parties, scary enough to watch in the dark in the middle of the night, with enough references to sex to provide copious embarrassed teenage giggles. This one charts the tale of the brilliantly named Peyton Flanders, a sadistic widow who poses as a nanny in order to destroy the woman who wronged her, and steal away her family.

Rebecca De Mornay is just wonderful as glassy-eyed Peyton, manipulating and driving slowly insane the mother she is supposed to be hired to help; even managing to turn her against her best friend Marlene (Julianne Moore in full wise-cracking side-kick mode). From the director of L.A. Confidential (seriously!), this story of home-wrecking and wind chimes was never going to trouble The Academy. But there’s some nasty business with an asthma inhaler, an epic shovel fight, and even death by greenhouse. Which is sometimes all you need.

The Mighty Ducks

mighty-ducks‘Did you really quack at the Principal?’

Emilio Estevez is a hot shot lawyer, sentenced to coach a junior ice hockey team as community service after being caught drink driving. It kind of sells itself, doesn’t it? The movie trilogy that launched Joshua Jackson‘s extensive career, (He’s in Dawson’s Creek. He doesn’t play Dawson.) and stars distinguished English actor Joss Ackland as Hans, all round mentor, sage, and hockey stick seller.

The Ducks are a rabble of street kids, perpetually bottom of the league, but with an abundance of spirit. Luckily, it turns out Coach Bombay (Estevez) and ice hockey have history. And, once he’s ditched the chip on his shoulder and the ridiculous limo, he and the Ducks go far. Indeed, in the follow up movie D2 they represent the USA in (something similar to) the Olympics. It’s one of a handful of films which is bettered by its sequel (see also my next year’s entry into A Decade in Film). However this original is where the heart of the team is born. Besides, you have to watch this one first to learn what a Triple Deke is.

A Few Good Men

a-few-good-men‘I want the truth!’

In a court house of the United States government, one man will stop at nothing to keep his honour, one will stop at nothing to find the truth, and Kevin Bacon has the most remarkable haircut you ever did see. Aaron Sorkin wrote the oft-quoted screenplay after hearing about a similar case in Guantanamo Bay, on which his sister was a military attorney. The Sorkin trademark ‘walk & talk’ also originated in this movie.

Despite winning precisely nothing at the Oscars, critics and the box office deemed it a hit, and it went on to be the most commercially successful work of hero director Rob Reiner. A veritable all-star cast, including Tom Cruise at his preppy nineties peak, Jack Nicholson chugging on cigars and shouting ‘I’m gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull!’, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, Kiefer Sutherland and plenty of others. A Few Good Men is a largely court room based tale of honour, loyalty and Code Reds. It’s also a pretty great advert for never joining the Marines.

Scent of a Woman

Scent-of-a-Woman‘Out of order — I’ll show you out of order! You don’t know what out of order is, Mr. Trask! I’d show you, but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fuckin’ blind.’

Based on the Italian film of the same name (but in Italian, obviously), Al Pacino stars as retired Jack Daniels fuelled curmudgeon Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade; and an even fresher-faced than normal Chris O’Donnell as the prep school student employed as his aide over the Thanksgiving Weekend. The pair embark on high jinks, soul searching and the Tango to the backdrop of the Waldorf-Astoria, Hollywood’s favourite New York based bed & breakfast.

A hidden gem of a film, which seems to have passed a lot of people by. Leaving aside the fact that director Martin Brest went on to write & direct what is frequently cited as one of the worst movies of all time, Scent of a Woman is a must see. The first two hours make for a pretty excellent tale, and include their own heart-warming almost ending. But it’s the last 30 odd minutes, at the disciplinary committee, which are just pure, unadulterated, watch with your mouth hanging open, Pacino. Nominated on seven previous occasions, this is the one that finally got him the acting Oscar. As if they even needed to take a vote that year. Hoo-ah!

Check out Kate’s choices for 1990 & 1991, or the full Decade in Film series. 

100 Greatest TV Episodes: The Cold Open (s1 ep2)

studio 60 matt albieTime flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The show The West Wing could have been. Aaron Sorkin’s 2006 offering, set behind the scenes of a live TV comedy sketch show (so, SNL basically) was cancelled after a single season. The blame for its demise can be placed on the debut of similar in subject matter only 30 Rock the same year, the expense of such an enormous production, or just the fact that it wasn’t good enough. Indeed, there is much criticism on the internet. It took the haters five years to move on (and only then because Sorkin incurred fresh wrath by making Newsroom). Nonetheless, I’m a big fan of those 22 episodes of television.

My tastes are perhaps a little niche. But any show willing to ditch the three main characters and dedicate an entire episode to reuniting Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield, The West Wing’s second best on screen couple, is alright with me. Add to that all the usual Sorkin walking, talking, calling each other ‘sir’ shenanigans, a guest appearance by John Goodman, and the fact that it’s about a television show, and it’s guaranteed to be one of the first box sets I turn to when asked to contribute to a list of greatest episodes. Sadly, these days, television networks tend to base their renewal decisions more on Nielsen and less on my own personal preferences. For shame.

The pilot opens with the executive producer of the sketch show (which is also called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – huh!) doing a Network live on air, and the subsequent return of former employees Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Trip (Bradley Whitford) to take over. Maybe it was the use of Under Pressure as the closing song, or just the way Matt & Danny jumped onto the stage at the end, but never have the final scenes of a pilot inspired such a squeal of anticipatory delight in me. It’s fair to say I went into this second episode with sky high expectations.

The Cold Open charts the new executive producers’ struggle to put together their first show in five days, in the face of huge media attention and sponsor pressure, with specific focus on creating a cold open. After the pilot, in which we mainly meet a bunch of characters and listen to Queen, it also acts as something of a cold open to the rest of the series. You see? It’s a show within a show!

Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) is the newly appointed president of entertainment programming. I’ve never wanted anyone as a boss more. Jordan is hugely successful, fiercely loyal, devastatingly attractive and makes really appalling jokes at all the worst possible moments. She is pretty much the perfect woman. While she jokes about being high at press conferences, and battles with affiliates about the Rapture, back at the studio, Danny tries to coax Matt into writing their first episode. Danny is just the right mix of disciplinarian, mother hen and cocaine addict to make the perfect executive producer for a live prime time sketch show. I imagine. I mean, I’m no expert, but the show gets made, so I’d call it a success. And, if you were one of the few who watched the entire series, Danny utters an important line during the press conference that comes back in the last few episodes. I love that kind of shit.

Matthew Perry originally turned down the role of Matt Albie, but apparently Sorkin was insistent that no one else could play him. Understandable, since Albie is fairly obviously based on Sorkin himself; from the feuds with other writing staff, to the righteous indignation, and even the devout Christian ex-girlfriend. We all know that Matthew Perry can play neurotic, but this time he’s freaking out over a digital clock and some index cards pinned to a wall, rather than house-mate related mishaps, and he really is a delight to watch. Within five minutes of meeting his new writing staff, he’s giving them a lecture on clothing ‘Couldn’t believe the words were coming out of my mouth, but apparently I felt pretty strongly about it.’ and is anal enough to appreciate that 17 is a much funnier number than 15. Hero.

Of course, the real star of the episode is the cold open itself. From its office based conception to the final closing performance, it is the perfect blend of big band musical number, Gilbert & Sullivan, and words. Glorious, Sorkin shaped words.

We’ll be the very model of a modern network TV show,
Each time that we walk into this august and famous studio,
We’re starting out from scratch after a run of twenty years and so,
We hope that you don’t mind that our producer was caught doing blow.

Why we will not be reviewing Taken 2

“It seems to me that more and more we’ve come to expect less and less from each other, and I think that should change” – Aaron Sorkin

If my life was an Aaron Sorkin TV show not only would I be funnier (and probably fitter from all the walking and talking), but today would be the day I made a principled and ultimately futile stand against something that is going very wrong in the industry that I love.

A small, and very deluded, part of me feels I am following in the fictional footsteps of Jed Bartlett or Will McAvoy today. Enough is enough, and someone needs to take a stand.

As we mentioned on this week’s Failed Critics Review, Taken 2 (the sequel to the trashy but entertaining Liam Neeson revenge-thriller Taken) has received a 12a certificate for cinema release in the UK. We were worried this would lead to a toning-down of the violence and bad language in a film franchise which previously relied entirely on violence and bad language.

Overnight the first reviews have started to appear online, and it looks as though things are worse than we feared. The language and violence has been cut, but in such a way that scenes now apparently make now sense.

Den of Geek have written a wonderful piece on Taken 2’s decision to seek a 12a certificate and the recent trend of studios to provide an ‘uncut’ version of films for home release. They’ve also reviewed the film, and have given their readers the full facts to make up their own minds.

But we will not be reviewing Taken 2.

Failed Critics is a very small blog run by me in my spare time and with contributions from people also giving up their spare time. We don’t get to see press previews of films weeks ahead of release. When we review a film on the podcast, it’s based entirely on the experience we had of paying to watch a film in a cinema.

And I am not going to pay a penny to watch Taken 2.

We’ve paid to see some pretty terrible films this year. I don’t begrudge spending my money on any of them (even the exceedingly lazy Dark Shadows) as I realise that the deficiencies in those films may not only be subjective, but will if they do exist they are caused by constraints of creativity, talent, money, or a misguided belief of ‘what the public want’.

The Taken 2 situation is different in that they have a cut of the film they know is better, but they would rather put out an inferior product that they know doesn’t work purely to get 12 year olds (and younger) to come and see the film.

Let’s look at that again. A company is knowingly putting out an inferior product, and they expect us to still pay full price for it. Then they hope we’ll pay again for the privilege to watch the ‘fixed’ product.

That naked greed and disregard for their customers shouldn’t be rewarded.

There’s also a moral issue here. Should we really be condoning a company that wants to market Death Wish-style films to children? Personally I have never seen a credible link between movie violence and violent behavior in children – but that still doesn’t mean that certain films are appropriate for children to watch. What happened to the divide between adult and family entertainment? The answer to falling cinema attendances is not to retool adult films to get more kids through the doors. Choose who your market is, and make the very best films for that market that you can.

Last weekend the top two films at the UK box office were Dredd and Lawless. Both very violent and stylized 18 certificate films. Dredd’s bravery in unfashionably going for an 18 certificate was rewarded, and will almost inevitably lead to a captive audience for sequels. If there’s any justice, Taken 2 will be the end of the Taken franchise as we know.

As consumers we don’t have many choices, but the choices we do have are powerful. Don’t give your hard-earned money to studios that show you no respect. I’m not saying that every film released should, or even can be a masterpiece. All I’m saying is that studios and distributors should do us the courtesy of releasing they very best products that they can.

That is why we will not review Taken 2 until we get access to the cut the director intended us to watch.